June 21, 2011
Geneva, Switzerland -- The Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) welcomes the first-ever guidelines from the World Health Organization on the prevention and treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections for men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people. Developed in consultation with key stakeholders and civil society around the globe, the guidelines assess the effectiveness of available interventions and emphasize the importance of a human rights approach to healthcare for these populations.
The guidelines come at a time when HIV rates among MSM are surpassing 20% in a wide range of countries, including Jamaica, Mexico, Thailand and Zambia. Despite the clear need for services, it is estimated that fewer than one in ten MSM around the world have access to even the most basic HIV prevention and treatment options. While data on the epidemic among transgender people is extremely scarce, reports indicate that rates of HIV infection and access to services for this population are even worse.
"The release of these guidelines is an important step toward achieving the standard of health and human rights that all MSM and transgender people deserve," said Dr. George Ayala, Executive Officer of the MSMGF, who consulted on the development of the guidelines. "The recommendations give policy officials and healthcare professionals evidence-based guidance for serving our communities, and they offer civil society a benchmark to which we can hold our governments accountable."
The guidelines profile a number of prevention and treatment interventions targeting MSM and transgender people, including condom use, behavioral interventions, internet-based strategies, and anti-retroviral treatment. The document then gives technical recommendations for each category of intervention based on available evidence.
The document's recommendations for individual interventions are supplemented with a set of overarching principles to help ensure the efficacy of any intervention targeting these populations. Referred to in the guidelines as Good Practice Recommendations, these principles include human rights protections for MSM and transgender people, elimination of stigma and violence against these groups, and inclusive health services with enhanced sensitivity and education among healthcare professionals.
"Stigma, discrimination and human rights violations have played a major role in blocking access to essential health services for MSM and transgender people in all world regions," said Krista Lauer, Policy Associate at the MSMGF. "These abuses are especially damaging when they are inflicted by healthcare professionals. This document sends a clear message to the health sector that discrimination against MSM and transgender people is not only unacceptable, it completely undermines efforts to deliver an effective public health response to HIV."
The WHO urges that the guidelines be integrated with each country's national HIV/AIDS strategy. While the WHO recognizes that different countries will have to implement these recommendations at different paces due to available resources, the organization asserts that country-level strategic planning should be directed toward the eventual implementation of all recommendations in the guidelines to achieve universal access to HIV services for these populations nationally.
"This is only the beginning," said Dr. Ayala. "The recommendations are solid, benefiting from the input of community-based organizations around the world. Now these recommendations must be integrated within country AIDS responses, combining effective interventions to ensure maximum impact. As we move forward, it is essential that civil society remains meaningfully involved in every step of the process. Community organizations have been at the heart of the HIV response for MSM and transgender people since the epidemic began -- their expertise, leadership and steadfast commitment hold the key to bringing this crisis to an end."
Note to Editors: As part of the guidelines development process, the WHO commissioned the MSMGF to assess the values and preferences of MSM and transgender people regarding different prevention and treatment options. The MSMGF conducted in-depth interviews with MSM and transgender people from 27 different countries across six world regions, both HIV-negative and living with HIV. The press release and final report from that assessment are available below:
Press Release: http://www.msmgf.org/index.cfm/id/11/aid/2353/langID/1/