Organized by the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF), the MSM Pre-Conference presented high-level speakers (the leaders of the Global Fund, UNAIDS, AIDS-Free World) who affirmed that the broader global response to the HIV & AIDS would not forget about men who have sex with men (MSM). Johns Hopkins’ Chris Beyrer presented new models that described the impact of investments in HIV prevention programming for MSM, showing in each case (Thailand, Ukraine, Peru, and Kenya) that such investments would turn the trajectories of their national epidemics. Concurrent workshops addressed a range of issues, including funding, community action, prevention, research, advocacy, and access to treatment and care.
In spite of the long-understood and disproportionate vulnerability of MSM to HIV, action to address these needs still struggles to find footing in many parts of the world. This meeting highlighted the remarkable work of many community advocates and providers who have managed to build programs with little institutional support and woefully inadequate funding. While this neglect is slowly being recognized and addressed, most MSM around the world continue to have no access to services. (Fewer than 10% of MSM globally are estimated to receive prevention education and services.)
At the end of the day, Robert Carr, a co-chair of the MSMGF, spoke powerfully about his experience both fighting homophobia and HIV in the Caribbean and of the global challenges we face. With the oratory of an impassioned preacher, Robert demanded that the assembled crowd no longer accept the homophobia that permits our exclusion from HIV programming and from so many other aspects of life that others take for granted. He pointed to the HIV epidemic itself is a symptom of this dysfunction. Importantly, he reminded everyone that this is not simply an issue of policy or one that could be solved with high-level good intentions. Civil society, especially at the community level, must be funded to do this work, and we must change the way society thinks about MSM and other sexual minorities.
This was a powerful ending to a day that reminded many in the room of the urgent need for action to address the needs of MSM in the global epidemic. JSI has been a strong supporter of these efforts, including as a co-sponsor of the Pre-Conference in the company of the Gates Foundation, the Global Fund, UNDP, and USAID/PEPFAR. AIDSTAR-One, USAID’s global technical assistance program in HIV implemented by JSI, has also recognized MSM as a priority, including the development of two case studies on programming for MSM in Ghana and India that were distributed to all Pre-Conference attendees.
These documents provide guidance about successful interventions to reach MSM. Increasingly, it is clear that MSM need to be addressed in targeted HIV programming but also within broader interventions in order to maximize the impact of these efforts. While there remains much to be done, the need is urgent. Let’s get to work!