The upcoming World AIDS Day on Saturday, December 1 is an opportunity for all of us – civil society organizations, NGOs, governments, the private sector and citizens around the world, to share knowledge about the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS.
We have a lot to be proud of.
According to the WHO’s 2011 Progress Report on Global HIV/AIDS Response, “access to antiretroviral therapy in low and middle income countries increased from 400,000 in 2003 to 6.65 million in 2010, treatment resulting in substantial declines in the number of people dying from AIDS related causes during the past decade.”
As an African-based, African-led health development organization partnering with communities and African experts to find solutions for lasting health change in Africa, the challenges of HIV/AIDS are ever present. Whether it’s encouraging testing and counseling, providing treatment, facilitating care for those living with AIDS or educating about prevention, AMREF works in all areas of HIV/AIDS.
And still, we’ve added yet another dimension.
While a major barrier to treatment in Africa has been the stigma surrounding HIV, it has long been understood that men who have sex with men (MSM) is an even bigger taboo. Not only is sex between men stigmatized, it is officially denied and criminalized in many parts of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Of the groups that are at high risk of HIV infection, men who have sex with men are particularly vulnerable, as they are unable to access treatment and care due to social, religious and political stigma. This discrimination only serves to add to their vulnerability, making it nearly impossible to carry out relevant HIV prevention, treatment, care and support activities.
In places where homosexuality is not tolerated, MSM often hide their same sex relations from their friends and families to avoid persecution. Many have wives and children, or have sex with women as well as men. As a result, those who are infected with HIV are likely to transmit it to their female partners. The effects of the stigma around MSM impacts more than simply the individuals who can’t access treatment, it also has dire consequences for entire families in Africa.
This year AMREF has taken a courageous, public stand on this issue by advocating a human rights-based approach in providing access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support of MSM without stigma and discrimination.
Based on medical ethics and the right to health, AMREF strongly supports the principle that health services should be inclusive and easily available to MSM. Creating inclusive health services requires strategies to sensitize and educate frontline health workers and other staff members in health care and social service settings, keeping in mind that safe and inclusive public services, and the underlying principle of non-discrimination, are vital for the community’s health, well-being and dignity. MSM living with HIV should have the same access to anti-retroviral therapy as any other population.
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