As AIDS Conference Opens, amfAR Releases Report Exposing Global Failure to Address HIV Among MSM
Ban Ki-moon, Margaret Chan, and presidents from Africa and Latin America call for governments to target epidemic among men who have sex with men
MEXICO CITY (August 4, 2008)—A day after leaders from the United Nations and the World Health Organization called attention to the need to combat AIDS among men who have sex with men (MSM), amfAR released the world’s first comprehensive report exposing the failure of governments and global health institutions to address this exploding epidemic. The report, MSM, HIV, and the Road to Universal Access–How Far Have We Come?, paints a clear picture of collective denial and inaction fueling a worldwide public health crisis.
The full report can be downloaded here.
At the opening ceremony of the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot, and the presidents of Mexico, Botswana, and St. Kitts and Nevis called on governments to refocus attention on protecting MSM, who make up a large and growing portion of the epidemic in every part of the world. In the U.S., a new report released Saturday by the CDC showed that HIV infections among gay men have risen 75 percent over the last 15 years.
“We need to engage them, we need to take care of them, we should not forget about them,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, referring to MSM communities worldwide.
The worldwide statistics are shocking. Globally, MSM are 19 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population. In Latin America, which is hosting the biennial international AIDS conference for the first time, MSM are 33 times more likely to be infected than the general population. And though MSM make up nearly a quarter of those infected with HIV in Latin America as a whole, programs targeted toward MSM receive less than 1 percent of total HIV/AIDS spending in the region.
amfAR’s report studied 128 country reports submitted to the United Nations, and found that nearly half of countries (44 percent) failed to provide any data whatsoever on MSM. Despite a unanimous commitment that all UN member countries made in 2001 to monitor HIV among high-risk groups, the report found that 71 percent of countries said they did not have any information on the percentage of MSM reached by HIV prevention programs. Much of this failure can be attributed to a lack of leadership from both national governments and the institutions charged with leading the global response to HIV/AIDS.
“World leaders are finally saying the right things, but they need to follow their words with actions,” said amfAR CEO Kevin Frost. “The failure of the Global Fund, PEPFAR, the World Bank, and the world’s other global health bodies to devote significant resources toward reducing HIV rates among MSM is indefensible. These organizations have policies on women, drug users, migration–but not one of them has a comprehensive policy on MSM.”
The report also includes an update on the state of the global epidemic among MSM, identifying Kenya, Jamaica, Benin, Thailand, and Ghana as the countries with the highest reported HIV prevalence among MSM. Although data on MSM are scarce, the report found that MSM are 18 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population in Asia and at least 4 times more likely in Africa.
The report also found that criminalization of male-male sexual activity is a major driver of the epidemic among MSM in many countries. Seven out of the 10 countries with the highest reported prevalence among MSM criminalize homosexuality. Globally, 86 countries criminalize male-male sexual activity, and in seven countries, male-male sexual activity is punishable by death. This institutionalized stigma and discrimination frequently prevents MSM from accessing even basic HIV/AIDS services.
“Unfortunately, when it comes to human rights and HIV, somewhere between the declarations and the practice, many governments fall into a hole. That is especially true when sexuality is introduced into policy debates,” said Joanne Csete of the Firelight Foundation, who also contributed to the report. “Governments should be concerned about the corrosive effects on broader society, both epidemiologically and otherwise, that arise when they repress people on the basis of sexuality.”
In 2006, all UN member states committed to report on a total of 23 indicators relating to various aspects of the HIV epidemic. Five of these 23 indicators are relevant to MSM and measure prevalence of HIV infection, rates of HIV testing, HIV knowledge, condom use, and access to prevention programming. The fact that 77 countries did not report any data on HIV prevalence among MSM signals a callous indifference and a lack of responsiveness to the epidemic among this vulnerable population.
amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is one of the world’s leading nonprofit organizations dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment education, and the advocacy of sound AIDS-related public policy. Since 1985, amfAR has invested nearly $275 million in its programs and has awarded grants to more than 2,000 research teams worldwide. For more information about amfAR, visit www.amfar.org.
About the MSM Initiative
amfAR’s MSM Initiative was launched in 2007 to reduce the high HIV infection and transmission rates among MSM in resource-limited countries. The MSM Initiative is charged with empowering grassroots MSM organizations and building awareness of the HIV epidemic affecting MSM.