Feature story

MSM and the global HIV epidemic

31 July 2008

Ahead of AIDS 2008, a two day forum being
held in Mexico will focus on men who have
sex with men and HIV.

The up-coming XVII International AIDS Conference (IAC) begins 3 August in Mexico City. It is the first time that the world’s largest HIV forum is being held in Latin America giving the opportunity for regional HIV issues to be highlighted.

No single factor impacting the epidemic in Latin America is more in need of focus than men who have sex with men (MSM). At least a quarter of HIV infections in the region are related to sex between men but social taboos largely prevent sustained discussion on the issue and have inhibited efforts to promote safer sexual relations.

In particular, unprotected sex between men is an important factor in the epidemics of Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru in South America, as well as in several Central American countries, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama.

Against this background a pre-conference affiliated event “The Invisible Men: Gay Men and other MSM in the Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic”, will be hosted by Global Forum on MSM and HIV on 1-2 August in Mexico City.

The Global Forum on MSM and HIV

The Global Forum on Men Who Have Sex with Men and HIV was first convened at the 2006 International AIDS Conference in Toronto. It is a network of civil society groups, AIDS organizations, MSM groups and other agencies that works at global and national levels to advocate for improved HIV programming specifically for MSM. The Forum was formed in response to a shared concern that current HIV strategies do not adequately address the needs of men who have sex with men and that the gaps are due to persistent denial and human rights abuses.

“Across the world, effective HIV responses meeting the needs of men who have sex with men have been neglected. Today there is a real willingness to start to overcome that quarter of a century of neglect, and the Global Forum and this meeting will give a strong focus where and how action is most urgent,” Michael Bartos, UNAIDS Prevention Chief.

The two day forum will focus on coordinating a response to the large gaps in funding and services that currently exist for MSM living with and at risk for HIV and call for a scale up HIV funding and human rights protections for men who have sex with men. UNAIDS Executive Director Dr Peter Piot will address the forum.

Human rights and social justice are key to the health and well being of men who have sex with men and other sexual and gender minorities. Stigma and discrimination contributes to the spread of HIV by creating a culture of secrecy and shame that makes it difficult to effectively educate communities on risk behaviours.