March 26, 2009
New York, N.Y. -- While the estimated prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Liberia appears low compared to many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the infection rate is nonetheless of epidemic proportions and is potentially rising. Beyond that, little is known about the contours of HIV/AIDS in this war-torn West African nation that was founded 160 year ago by freed slaves from America.
Today amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, announced that it will support an unprecedented effort to gather data on the extent of HIV risk among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Liberia. The information, which will be collected by the Liberia-based group Concern for Humanity, will be used to document needs and to develop recommendations for reducing HIV risk and prevalence among this vulnerable population.
"Sub-Saharan Africa has long been the epicenter of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic," said Kent Klindera, program manager of the MSM Initiative. "But astonishingly little is known about the extent of the epidemic and specific risk factors among vulnerable groups, particularly men who have sex with men. And MSM can be especially hard to reach because of widespread homophobia, discrimination, and criminalization of same-sex sexual behavior."
The Liberia project is one of eight that will be supported by amfAR's MSM Initiative in a new round of community awards for sub-Saharan Africa that was announced today. The remaining awards go to grassroots groups in Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya (three awards), and Nigeria. The awards, which total $100,000 collectively, will support a wide range of HIV prevention, education, and outreach activities. They follow an initial round of eight awards to African groups that was announced in January 2008.
amfAR launched its MSM Initiative in 2007 to support and empower grassroots MSM organizations in their efforts to expand HIV prevention, treatment, and care services, build understanding and awareness of HIV epidemics among MSM, and advocate effective HIV-related policies and increased funding.
The announcement of the new MSM awards coincides with the publication of a landmark study of HIV prevalence, HIV risk, and human rights among MSM in Botswana, Malawi, and Namibia. Published in the journal PLoS One, the study concludes that MSM in each of the three countries are at high risk for both HIV infection and human rights abuses. Among the 537 men surveyed in the study, 36 percent of those older than 30 were HIV positive. Forty-two percent reported at least one instance of abuse, such as blackmail and denial of housing and healthcare.
The study was led by Dr. Stefan Baral of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins University, in partnership with six African organizations. One of the partner groups, the Center for the Development of People in Blantyre, Malawi, received an amfAR award in 2008 to support the development of a clinic for MSM that conducts sexual health outreach training and distributes HIV prevention materials.
"This important new study adds to the growing body of evidence showing that MSM are consistently among the most vulnerable to HIV infection, but are the least likely to have access to prevention, treatment, and care services," said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost. "The study reminds us once again that we will never control or conquer HIV/AIDS unless we address the needs of all vulnerable communities."
For a complete list of the projects being funded, please click here.