Activists urge: fund the AIDS services gap and protect human rights

The International AIDS Conference has seen an unprecedented focus on the HIV related needs of gay and other men who have sex with men and the creation of a new Global Forum to address the ongoing vulnerability and effect of HIV on same sex attracted men throughout the world.

Globally, the fact that fewer than one in 10 men who have sex with men (MSM)  have access to basic HIV/AIDS prevention services and even fewer have access to HIV/AIDS care and support is a scandal.

Silence and invisibility combine to form a fatal cocktail for the world’s gay and other men who have sex with men who, who are disproportionately at risk of and affected by HIV/AIDS.

While a lack of funding and political will has limited the number of studies on MSM and HIV/AIDS in many regions of the world, a report launched at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto today by TREAT Asia indicates that HIV prevalence rates among MSM exceed 25% in some parts of Asia. Studies from Latin America and the Caribbean, meanwhile, suggest that prevalence rates in that region vary from approximately 10 – 20% .

In fact, seroprevalence estimates among MSM around the world remain among the highest of any group.

Combined with the fact that only one in ten homosexually active men have access to even the most basic HIV information the situation for gay and other MSM is itself a missaporpiation of resources and a human rights violation of the right to health.

The international community's commitment to universal access provides a real opportunity to reverse this situation and to close the funding and services gap for men who have sex with men in developing countries.

However, closing the funding and services gap will only solve part of the problem. Human rights violations against gay and other MSM  — including arbitrary arrests, serious physical violence and even murder — increase their vulnerability to HIV and fuel new infections among them. Human rights abuses also follow infection, exacerbating the impact of HIV/AIDS.

At “MSM & HIV: Advancing a Global Agenda for Gay Men and Other Men who have Sex with Men” a pre-conference satellite event attended by over 300 AIDS activists, researchers and community representatives, which I chaired, participants agreed to work to address these issues through a new Global Forum on MSM & HIV.

The Forum, the first ever attempt to bring together gay and other men who have sex with men from both the North and South to fight AIDS together, will coordinate a global response to the enormous gaps in funding and services that currently exist for MSM living with and at risk for HIV/AIDS.

Addressing the closing session of the event Dr Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, pledge his personal and UNAIDS’ organisational support for the Forum and its work.

The Global Forum will marshal the efforts of individuals and organizations from all regions of the world to mobilize existing resources and to pressure governments and international bodies to scale up HIV/AIDS funding and human rights protections for MSM.

The Forum will work to bring activists and service providers working with MSM in the North and the South together.

Collaboration within and between developing and developed countries is a matter of both solidarity and need — MSM in Canada, the U.S., Australia, and Europe also continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS and the Forum poses a real opportunity to take a unified, holistic approach to this global challenge of AIDS in gay communities and among homosexually active men in all its dimensions.

As its first advocacy initiative, the Forum is calling on candidates for the executive directorship of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria  publicly commit themselves to closing the HIV prevention and treatment services gap for MSM.

The development of programs for MSM, who exist in every country, should be a condition of all future Global Fund agreements. The Global Fund's new executive director can help make that happen and candidates for the position should pledge to do so. An open letter to canidadates will be send later this week.

The HIV & MSM pre-conference satellite appeared on the front page of The Daily Voice, the official newspaper of the International AIDS Conference.