Working with MSM in Muslim settings: lessons learned from 15 years old experience of ALCS in Morocco

Published: July 21, 2010

M. Harri, O. Mellouk, Y. Yatine, N. Rafif, L. Ouarsas

Association de Lutte contre le Sida, Association, Marrakech, Morocco

In Morocco, a Muslim country, homosexuality is rejected by society and prohibited by law. A person convicted of homosexuality may incur a penalty of six months to three years imprisonment.
Although official data show that the majority of AIDS cases are due to heterosexual transmission (80%) and only 7% due to homosexual transmission, it is estimated that MSM cases remain under reported , given the unfavorable legal and sociocultural context. A study by the ALCS in the early 90s showed the vulnerability of MSM : multiplicity of sexual partners (1 to 30 per week), low condom use (57% never used or exceptionally).
A specific program targetting MSM has been established in 1995 in 4 cities and has since been expanded to 5 new ones with support from the Global Fund. The program aims to reduce the vulnerability to HIV by promoting access to information and tools of prevention, access to counseling and voluntary testing, screening and early treatment of STIs, work on self-esteem and psycho-social support. Outreach strategy is used through peer educators recruited from the community and trained. During 2009, we reached 22,695 MSM, performed 1123 HIV tests and 355 STI consultations. 96,486 condoms and 47,123 lubricants were distributed.
15 years of experience show that success of the program is linked to a community process involving MSM in all stages. All in a secular frame of reference with respect for human rights. However, the rise of religious movements and political/religious recovery of homosexuality begin to pose a threat to activities on the ground. Certainly, involving religious leaders is important, however, it presents a threat of institutionalization of their role in the response to HIV and can undermine the secular framework and universal standards of human rights that have made the success of this program.

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