Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sex between men: the highest prevalence of HIV and the least amount of resources to prevent it

IRMA made the Global Voice (La Voz Global) yesterday - the official newspaper of the AIDS 2008 conference...

See below. Here is the link to the full issue.

Segregation has played an important role in the fact that, in certain countries, MSM, or ‘men who have sex with men’, have been affected in greater numbers than in any other communities. However, generally speaking, studies regarding the characteristics of the epidemic among MSM communities are not given enough support or attention, which causes a problem that becomes two-fold. On the one hand, men having sex with men are being widely stigmatized as one of the communities most affected by HIV/AIDS. On the other hand, in many countries, this population is being frequently left out from support and research programs and projects.

The organizers of the pre-conference entitled Invisible Men: Gay Men and Other MSM in the Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic call attention to this situation. It has been stated that the risk for men who have sex with men to contract HIV is 19 times higher than for the rest of the population. In Malawi for example, the number of HIV infections among MSM is almost double than that of men who do not have sex with other men, as it has been shown in a study supported by both the US and Canada. Another investigation presented in this event, carried out in Ukraine, showed that the incidence of HIV in MSM communities is not geographically homogeneous: while in the capital of the country, Kiev, the prevalence rate is 4.4 percent, in Odesa, that figure has reached 23.2 percent.

This is how Peter Piot, UNAIDS Executive Director, drew attention to the imbalance that exists between the high prevalence rates of HIV infections and the scant amount of resources allocated to HIV control among MSM and homosexual communities. Dr. Piot insisted on the need for economic funds to fight homophobia, since homophobia is what facilitates the spreading of the virus.

David Wilson, representing the World Bank, was also present at the event. He illustrated thecurrent situation of the pandemic, and stated the need to form strategic alliances in order to be able to contain the epidemic, especially among men who have sex with men.

Jim Pickett, from the International Rectal Microbicide Advocates (IRMA), in turn, expounded on the urgent need to promote the development of microbicides specifically designed for use in anal sex practises, which might be one of the most effective methods for preventing HIV transmission through anal sex. Given the histological characteristics of the anus and the rectum, risks of HIV transmission are much higher than those existing in vaginal sexual contact. According to the presenters, anal sex practices are widespread among the general population, making it strange that it is exclusively associated with male homosexual practices.

At the end of the conference, George Ayala, who is one of the main organizers and a member of the AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), considered that the most important facet of this pre-conference resides in strengthening relations between various groups from all over the world. Its main goal is the creation of collaborative networks which will make everyone's work more efficient and will improve the optimization of resources. However, it is not just a matter of research or social activism. It is more a matter of making this part of the population, which remains invisible in the eyes of many institutions, more evident to governments, organizations,and societies around the world. Dr. Ayala concluded that this event is an example of such an effort.

Check out the current issue, and all back issues of the Global Voice, here.

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