August 3, 2008
Mexico City -- HIV epidemics among gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) are raging unchecked, a major global conference was told yesterday in Mexico City.
The Global Forum on MSM & HIV called for a transformation of the world's HIV response -- and by all governments in the Global South -- in light of evidence presented at the meeting, said Global Forum Co-Chairs, Robert Carr (Jamaica) and Joel Nana (South Africa).
The meeting, organized by the Global Forum on MSM & HIV and titled "The Invisible Men: Gay Men and Other Men Who Have Sex with Men in the Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic," was attended by 500 delegates from 82 countries in Mexico City on Friday and Saturday.
Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, warned the meeting that, "We are seeing rates of HIV infection among gay men in global south countries not seen since the 'invisible' epidemics in early nineteen eighties in North America, Australia and Western Europe."
In a global analysis, the World Bank's leading epidemiologist, Dr. David Wilson, told the meeting that "the rates of new HIV infections among MSM are alarming in every region in the Global South."
Wilson said that evidence now available in all regions showed that sex between men in the Global South is far more widespread than generally acknowledged and described the systematic under-spending on MSM programs as "the missing pillar in the global AIDS response."
Dr. Piot said his 12 years as executive director of UNAIDS had taught him the responsibility for this disastrous situation lay primarily in the homophobia among political leaders, noting that some refused to even allow the evidence to be collected -- let alone ensuring the funding of effective prevention programs for MSM.
"We, the UN system, need to move to comprehensive, 'business-like' programs to combat homophobia and strengthen human rights -- and particularly gay rights -- if catastrophes throughout the Global South are to be avoided," Dr. Piot told the meeting.
Global Forum Co-Chair Joel Nana said homophobia was so entrenched in many parts of Africa that MSM volunteers who handed out condoms to other men were putting their lives at risk -- and introduced some Senegalese men who had barely survived constant abuse and violence while attempting to do prevention outreach work.
Co-Chair Robert Carr said the Global Forum welcomed Dr. Piot's commitment to a major campaign to transform national governments' approaches to MSM and called on other donors, UN agencies, the Global Fund and national governments themselves to transform their own approaches to MSM and HIV, placing all programs first and foremost within a human rights framework.
"Anything else -- any 'business as usual' approach -- condemns us all to continuing violence and abuse of gay men and MSM -- and continuingly increasing rates of HIV infections," Carr said.
Presentations and remarks from presenters David Wilson (World Bank), Jeffrey O'Malley (UNDP) and Craig McClure (International AIDS Conference) are available upon request.