Will the Global HIV Response Fail Gay Men and Other Men Who Have Sex With Men?
Engaging With the United Nations High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS
One of the key global HIV advocacy opportunities of this year, if not of many years to come, will occur at the United Nations High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS (HLM), to be held at the United Nations in New York City from June 8-10, 2016. At the HLM, diplomatic missions representing governments from across the world will meet and issue a "political declaration" on the HIV global response. This political declaration will, in turn, have significant influence for years to come in the setting of global HIV policy priorities, including those of national governments and major international donors.
Why Should Advocates for Men Who Have Sex With Men Engage With the HLM?
At previous HLMs, including in 2006 and 2011, civil society organizations and representatives of communities most-affected by HIV ("key populations"), including gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men, mobilized and conducted advocacy in the lead-up to and during the HLM to influence the content of the political declarations. In 2011, this advocacy led to the inclusion in the declaration of a key point that "many national HIV-prevention strategies inadequately focus on populations that epidemiological evidence shows are at higher risk, specifically men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers. ..." This point, among others included in the 2011 political declaration, became a crucial reference for calls to increase funding and programming for men who have sex with men at country, regional, and global levels in 2011 and beyond.
What Makes the 2016 HLM of Particular Importance for Men Who Have Sex With Men?
As expressed in a recent letter sent by a coalition of global civil society organizations to Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/UNAIDS (UNAIDS) Executive Director Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS has in the past year adopted a "congratulatory" tone in its depiction of the current global HIV response. This tone includes an emphasis on "ending" and "getting to zero" and "fast track" when referring to the future of AIDS. This tone has contributed to misconception that we are near the end of the epidemic, and that annual HIV resource needs will no longer be needed. This is far from the truth when it comes to HIV among men who have sex with men.
Men who have sex with men are among the small number of specific groups for which HIV remains uncontrolled worldwide. HIV among men who have sex with men must be addressed openly, quickly, and with sufficient resources to support evidence-based, community-led, and human rights-affirming interventions at scale. Leaders in the global response must still work emphatically to:
- Fully fund comprehensive HIV and other STI prevention, care and treatment programs that are competently delivered and tailored to the needs of men who have sex with men -- funding levels should proactively: a) address the disproportionate HIV disease burden and increased HIV transmission rates among men who have sex with men; and b) resource community-based and LGBT-led responses.
- Ensure universal and unimpeded access to sexual health programs, including HIV and other STI services -- healthcare workers need technical training and support to deliver high quality, evidence informed, and rights-based sexual health services for men who have sex with men.
- Decriminalize homosexuality -- all socio-structural barriers that impact our communities should be removed, including homophobic laws that criminalize same-sex sexual practices, HIV non-disclosure, exposure, and transmission, sex work, gender non-conformity, and drug use.
What Are the Advocacy Entry Points for the 2016 HLM?
MSMGF together with UNAIDS (including the UNAIDS Secretariat, UNDP, UNFPA, and WHO) has established an advocacy platform to fast-track HIV and human rights responses among men who have sex with men ("the Platform"). The Platform is a civil society-led body constituted in January 2016 to provide guidance to the UN's coordination of the global HIV response, as well as to provide information and advice to other partners (UN Member States, bilateral and multilateral donors, foundations) in the response. Platform members are gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men including men living with HIV who are advocates, human rights defenders, prevention experts, researchers and program planners.
On April 5th, MSMGF with the Platform will be hosting a side event to the UN Civil Society Hearing being held the following day on April 6th, as part of preparations for the HLM in June. Titled Unfinished Business -- Taking Bolder Action to Address HIV Among Gay and Bisexual Men and Other Men Who Have Sex with Men, this side event is supported by UNAIDS, UNDP, OGAC/PEPFAR, and the Global Fund. The side event will focus on several key topics, including:
- The need for reliable data on men who have sex with men and corresponding under-investments in programming
- Models of collaboration between organizations led by men who have sex with men and governments across the HIV prevention and treatment continuum of care
- Improving enabling policy environments for more effective HIV responses among men who have sex with men
In order to ensure that key advocacy points are heard and carried into the HLM in June, You can help by:
- Contacting your UN country delegations, as well as your mission representatives in NYC directly and asking them to participate in our Platform Side Event on April 5th;
- Determining whether your government is planning to participate in the HLM in June and if they are, ask your government representative to include civil society in their delegation; and
- Lobbying your governments now on HIV-related issues of concern to men who have sex with men. Contact information for UN member states can be found here.
Subsequent to the Platform side event, there will be additional opportunities for advocates to engage in the lead-up to and during the HLM in June. We will continue to provide updates on these opportunities, and would appreciate hearing your perspectives on strategies to influence the political declaration that will emerge from the HLM. Please communicate your feedback and any questions/concerns you may have to Nadia Rafif, Director of Policy, at firstname.lastname@example.org. We thank you kindly for your much-appreciated engagement with this critical process.