Sunday, July 22, 2007
Sending out a MSM SMS
Kenya may be one of the African countries to get funding for the prevention of the spread of HIV among Men who have Sex with Men (MSM), through a new initiative that seeks to build awareness about this issue in the face of the HIV epidemic.
Speaking about the 4th International Aids Society (IAS) conference in Sydney, Australia, Sam Avrett, a consultant to the Foundation for Aids Research (amFAR) said the MSM funds would initially target seriously affected regions of the world.
"Our funds are still small compared to the need but by the end of the year we are hoping to make initial grants to seriously affected regions of the world such as south Asia, the Caribbean and Africa," said Avrett. He did not disclose the amounts the country would benefit.
Kenya is the most affected country in Africa. According to sero-prevalence studies among small groups of MSM in Nairobi and Mombasa, done by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), the Population Council, and others last year, Kenya has documented up to a 40 percent HIV prevalence rate among men who have sex with men, the highest reported rate in Africa followed by Senegal at 22 percent prevalence.
Other countries have documented MSM HIV prevalence rates at 28 percent for Bangkok, Thailand, 27 percent in the Ukraine, 21 percent for Uruguay and 16 and 17 percent for Andhra Pradesh and Mahashtra in India respectively.
Foundation for AIDS Research officials said the world's inability to prevent widespread HIV infection among MSM is one of the greatest public health failures in the fight against AIDS-denial, discrimination, and criminalisation lie at the root of this failure.
The high prevalence rates in Kenya and other developing countries are blamed on lack of appropriate health messages and support which makes many men who have sex with men unknowingly engage in behavior that increases their risk of infection.
In Kenya up to half the men who engage in MSM do not use condoms and most of them have no access to HIV prevention, treatment and care services as well as information and they are largely ignored by the government because it is illegal.
Even those who seek Voluntary Counseling and Testing services (VCT) are not advised because the curriculum used to train counselors does not include specialised advice for sex between men. Another missed opportunity for prevention.
With no data available yet as to how many men are engaged in MSM in Kenya, the practice increases the risk of transmission among the populations because some of the men are bisexual, transgendered or heterosexual.
The UNAIDS report on Global Aids epidemic 2006 says globally less than one in 20 men who have sex with men have access to the HIV prevention, treatment and care services they need.
Sex between men is significant in the HIV epidemic because it can involve anal sex, which when unprotected carries a very high risk. At least 5-10 percent of HIV infections worldwide are estimated to occur through sex between men, though this figure varies considerably between countries and regions, says the report.
But Avrett says most governments have also failed to acknowledge that sex between men happens and that unprotected sex contributes to transmission of HIV thus denying their programmes funding.
Kenya like other developing countries is a place where most HIV transmission is through heterosexual relationships and mother-to-child-transmission of HIV/Aids (MTCT) during child birth and breastfeeding.
Sex between men carries a lot of stigma and discrimination and men are not likely to take up HIV prevention, care, support and treatment services. MSM is the most prominent mode of HIV transmission in nearly all Latin American countries, USA, Canada and some Western Europe countries.
The MSM initiative to be launched by the amFAR in Sydney will be with the grassroots organizations providing small, target grants to provide prevention, treatment, care and support services to MSM.
Grassroots organizations have been at the forefront since the beginning of the epidemic, delivering services to vulnerable populations and demanding for greater actions from governments so they will be targeted. In Kenya GayKenya and Galebitra are some of the groups that have been working with MSM.
Grants will also be used to foster increased collaboration among organizations by supporting efforts to share information, and address new challenges, said Avrett to journalists under the National Press Foundation in Sydney, Australia.
"These grants will have an immediate and significant impact on poorer communities with limited resources for MSM. They could also have a multiplier effect helping to attract funding from additional donors," he said.
With sufficient funding and support these organizations are expected to transform community attitudes, drive policy change and mobilize the necessary funding to reverse the alarming spread of HVI among MSM around the world.
Even when countries are beginning to recognize the HIV/AIDS needs of vulnerable groups like sex workers and injectable drug users, MSM are still largely ignored which is fueling the crisis.
The EastAfrican newspaper
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