Feature story

Pre-conference focuses on HIV and human rights concerns of gay and other men who have sex with men and transgender people

21 July 2012

UNAIDS Director of the Caribbean Regional Support Team (left) participating in the Global Forum on MSM and HIV. Washington DC, 21 July 2012.

The Global Forum on MSM and HIV (MSMGF) organised a fifth biennial gathering of activists, researchers, global donors and other key stakeholders to focus on HIV and human rights concerns of gay, other men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people.

Planned as a pre-conference ahead of the 19th International AIDS Conference, this year's theme was "From Stigma to Strength: Strategies for MSM, Transgender People and Allies in a Shifting AIDS Landscape".

Since its inception in 2006, the pre-conference has grown to become the largest global gathering of activists, researchers, implementers and donors focused on the health and human rights of men who have sex with men. It provides a platform for participants to exchange the most recent research, best practices, and advocacy strategies that advance the overall goal of universal access.

The 2012 event welcomed more than 850 participants who focused their discussions around the implications of treatment as prevention, shifts in global financing, HIV criminalization, and the on-going barriers in addressing the global HIV epidemic among gay, MSM and transgender people.

MSMGF Executive Director Dr George Ayala noted that, “With the prevention potential of treatment confirmed and major shifts in the global financing architecture expected, the international HIV landscape is changing rapidly. Our Pre-Conference [addresses] the impact of these changes on MSM and transgender people and aims to identify the best steps forward."

Although there has been tremendous progress in the scale up of HIV treatment, and to a lesser extent HIV prevention, the goal of universal access remains elusive and coverage of prevention, treatment and care services for MSM and transgender people remains insufficient. Stigma, discrimination and human rights violations continue to be significant impediments to an effective HIV response.

“The meaningful inclusion of key affected populations in the AIDS response—specifically men who have sex with men and transgender people—is the only way we will achieve our vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero-AIDS related deaths,” said Ernest Massiah, Director of the UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team. “We cannot achieve an effective HIV response among key populations unless we simultaneously respect, protect and defend their human rights in every country in the world,” he added.

The event comes at a time when HIV rates among men who have sex with men in countries like Mexico, Jamaica and Zambia have reached 25%, 31% and 32%, respectively. In the United States, MSM account for more than half of all people living with HIV and more than 60% of new infections.

The meaningful inclusion of key affected populations in the AIDS response—specifically men who have sex with men and transgender people—is the only way we will achieve our vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero-AIDS related deaths

Ernest Massiah, Director of the UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team

Earlier this month, in a landmark report, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law called for the removal of laws that criminalize people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. It cited extensive evidence of how such criminal laws exacerbate risk of HIV infection among men who have sex with men and transgender people. According to the report, such laws drive people underground and into the margins of society away from health and HIV services.

Speaking about laws criminalizing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Maurice Tomlinson, Legal Advisor for Marginalized Groups of AIDS-Free World said, “The report is important to our work because it provides irrefutable proof of the negative consequences of punitive laws on the HIV response and examples of good practice for legal reform.”

UNAIDS has long called for the removal of such punitive laws and their replacement with protective ones. Yet, countries across the world still maintain laws, policies and practices that infringe upon human rights, fuel discrimination and prevent global and national efforts to address HIV.

Ahead of the pre-conference event, the Global Forum on MSM and HIV released the Robert Carr Doctrine, which calls on all stakeholders to recognize that HIV is not just a public health issue, but rather a symptom of underlying societal inequities and injustices. Named after the well-respected international AIDS activist who passed away one year ago, the Carr Doctrine represents the first time that the global networks of key affected populations have come together to forge a shared strategy.