amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

MSM Largely Ignored in Global Fight Against AIDS

Urgent Call for Funding and Leadership

June 18, 2008—The HIV/AIDS epidemic appears to be expanding significantly among men who have sex with men (MSM), but surveillance data on these populations remain scarce, MSM-specific resources are often nonexistent, HIV prevention and care services are rarely extended to MSM, and the human rights of these men are regularly threatened, according to a panel of experts convened by amfAR at the UN on June 9.

UN Speakers 

Speakers at the UN duirng the panel discussion of MSM and HIV.  

Speakers at the meeting, held immediately before the UN’s 2008 High Level Meeting on AIDS, called for greater leadership, accountability, and funding for prevention, treatment, and support programs aimed at MSM. “We are not doing enough and we have not done enough,” said Elhadj Sy of UNAIDS. “Progress?—yes—but enough?—absolutely not.”

Sponsored by amfAR, the United Nations Development Programme, UNAIDS, AIDS 2031, and The Global Forum on MSM & HIV, the meeting brought together more than a hundred attendees from around the world. The picture drawn by the forum’s speakers was uniformly dire. According to Jeffrey Stanton, director of amfAR’s MSM Initiative, newly published country reports received by UNAIDS show that half the nations in the world have collected no data whatsoever on HIV/AIDS among MSM, highlighting the degree to which many countries remain in denial about MSM. Stanton called for greater political will to tackle the issue, as well as adequate financial resources to ensure universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, care, treatment, and support programs for gay and other men who have sex with men as well as transgendered people.

Elhadj Sy 

Elhadj Sy of UNAIDS.  

Dr. Chris Beyrer of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins University presented recent data about HIV surveillance among MSM and noted that, worldwide, the likelihood of MSM having HIV is at least 19 percent higher than in the general population. Surveillance is very low in many parts of the world, he noted, but he pinpointed Africa as having been least widely studied.

The challenge that faces African public health officials in relation to MSM and HIV was underlined by Miriam Were of the Kenya National AIDS Control Council. Were, referring to HIV among MSM as “the overlooked epidemic,” described the struggle she and her colleagues have experienced trying to introduce awareness of MSM to government officials.

The experience of confronting deliberate ignorance of and stigma toward MSM was described in eloquent detail by Joanne Csete of the Firelight Foundation, who spoke about human rights issues among MSM and transgenders. If the UN and other organizations in leadership positions cannot take a strong stand on behalf of MSM, she said, “We face nothing less than a human rights catastrophe.” Tying human rights violations to the fight against AIDS, Csete declared, “An AIDS response that is not explicit in its support of sexual minorities can become complicit in their oppression.”