Guidelines to Respect, Protect and Fulfill the Needs of Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) in HIV Research
For Immediate Release
Cub Barrett, Program Communications Manager, amfAR
ADDIS ABABA; NEW YORK, December 5, 2011—Research for new HIV treatment and prevention interventions that involve men who have sex with men (MSM) requires improved collaboration between researchers and community-based organizations, according to a new guidance document released in conjunction with the International Conference on HIV/AIDS and Other STIs in Africa (ICASA), currently being held in Addis Abba, Ethiopia.
Entitled “Respect, Protect, Fulfill,” the guidance offers practical advice on how to best engage MSM in research trials of promising HIV prevention and treatment interventions, including HIV vaccines, rectal microbicides, combination prevention, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). The guidance aims to maximize the benefits to MSM, communities, and researchers, and to minimize negative consequences for those engaging in research.
The guidelines were compiled through a participatory process with both researchers and MSM community leaders throughout the world, enlisting more than 20 research and advocacy organizations offering input. The effort was led by researchers at amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research; the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI); The John Hopkins University – Center for Public Health and Human Rights (JHU-CPHHR); and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), with funding from IAVI.
“The HIV community is increasingly aware of the scale, scope, and severity of the global epidemics of HIV among MSM,” said Kent Klindera, program director for amfAR’s MSM Initiative. “We know that current interventions for HIV prevention, access to treatment, and a range of HIV- and STI-related issues are inadequate.”
The document also uses five case studies to illustrate the complicated relationship among MSM, human rights, and HIV/AIDS in countries around the world. The profiled research projects include successes and challenges of conducting such research in South Africa, Kenya, Brazil, Malawi, and Ukraine. With varying degrees of tolerance toward MSM—some countries have punitive laws against same-sex sexual behavior, while others have relatively open societies—both challenges and opportunities exist as outreach workers and researchers seek to halt the spread of the epidemic and reach MSM living with HIV.
“We hope this new guidance document spurs a larger conversation about lessons learned and best practices associated with conducting HIV research among diverse MSM populations worldwide,” said Prince Bahati, Director, Country and Regional Programs at IAVI. “We also hope the guidance document and the case studies will bolster the relationship between researchers and MSM organizations in order to conduct more effective research tailored to MSM populations in their unique socio-political environments.”
There is a wide variety of policies and attitudes about MSM, according to the guidance, and those laws and beliefs affect HIV outreach in various ways. For example, in South Africa, homosexuality is legal but stigmatized, creating a much different outreach environment than in Kenya, where homosexuality is both stigmatized and criminalized.
“What we found in the course of conducting research was that creating formal strategies for community engagement and capacity-building–including budgets–was vital to obtaining optimal research results in MSM/HIV-related studies,” said Dr. Stefan Baral, Associate Director at Johns Hopkins University-Center for Public Health and Human Rights. “Too often, researchers discount the role of community activists in conducting their research, which can lead to negative outcomes for the community, and at times put them in harm’s way.”
In addition to the case studies, each of which includes specific recommendations for action, the document includes checklists for both researchers and community organizations to help them understand the nuances of working together, as well as work to create partnerships for increased outcomes.
“We’re only going to end AIDS if we understand MSM populations, their risk of HIV infection, and how best to reach them,” said Dr. Cheikh Traore, Senior Advisory on Sexual Diversity at UNDP. “As we continue to fight against punitive laws, stigma, and discrimination with limited resources, it’s imperative that we use our collective knowledge and experience to empower everyone to take control of their communities’ health.”
The guidance document is available at www.amfar.org/msm.
amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is one of the world’s leading nonprofit organizations dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and the advocacy of sound AIDS-related public policy. Since 1985, amfAR has invested nearly $325 million in its programs and has awarded grants to more than 2,000 research teams worldwide. For more information, go to www.amfar.org.
The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) is a global not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the development of safe, effective, accessible, preventive HIV vaccines for use throughout the world. Founded in 1996, IAVI works with partners in 25 countries to research, design and develop AIDS vaccine candidates. In addition, IAVI conducts policy analyses and serves as an advocate for the AIDS vaccine field. IAVI supports a comprehensive approach to addressing HIV and AIDS that balances the expansion and strengthening of existing HIV-prevention and treatment programs with targeted investments in the design and development of new tools to prevent HIV. IAVI is dedicated to ensuring that a future AIDS vaccine will be available and accessible to all who need it. IAVI relies on the generous donations from governments, private individuals, corporations and foundations to carry out its mission. For more information, go to www.iavi.org.
The Center for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins focuses on using the scientific tools of public health to address the health and rights of populations in need. The Center is active in Asia, Africa, and the Former Soviet Union and works with sexual minorities, people who use drugs, and refugees and displaced communities in conflict. For more information, go to www.jhsph.edu/humanrights
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the global development network of the United Nations, advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resrouces to help people build a better life. Working through 135 Country Offices, UNDP works with 166 countries to develop locally tailored solutions to development challenges, especially arelated to poverty, human rights, gender, social protection, environment and health. As a co-sponsor of the UN Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), UNDP is responsible for contributing to the United Nation’s response to HIV along the dimensions of development, governance, human rights, gender and sexual diversity. For more information, go to www.undp.org