amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

Gay Men, MSM Key to Successful HIV/AIDS Response

“Today we need to acknowledge that we have failed in too many places to provide even the most basic services to gay men. In much of the world, they remain hidden, stigmatized, and susceptible to blackmail if they disclose their sexual lives,” said amfAR Vice President and Director of Public Policy Chris Collins during the 19th International AIDS Conference, which took place in late July in Washington, D.C.

The Lancet-hosted symposium at the 19th International AIDS Conference. 

“HIV epidemics in 2012 are severe and expanding among MSM globally in both low and high-income countries, and yet we remain underrepresented in decision-making about programs that address our own health.” Collins said

His words were spoken during a symposium session titled “Men Who Have Sex with Men and HIV” and hosted by The Lancet, whose July 28, 2012 issue featured a series on the same theme, including two articles co-authored by Collins.

Collins presented one of the articles, “A call to action for comprehensive HIV services for men who have sex with men,” at the session alongside several of his co-authors. In the “call to action,” the authors found that, where epidemiological surveillance has been conducted, men who have sex with men (MSM) bear a disproportionate burden of HIV. Yet this population continues to be excluded, sometimes systematically, from HIV services because of stigma, discrimination, and criminalization.

The combined effects of this burden and exclusion, the paper states, makes the expansion of HIV prevention, treatment, and care to MSM an urgent imperative for both public health and human rights purposes. The paper lays out a strategy to greatly improve the response around the world. For this, the authors looked at inputs such as epidemiology, social settings, and clinical factors.

“Gay men should be treated as whole people. Not just vectors of disease,” said Collins at the symposium. “Comprehensive care of MSM requires well-trained physicians, knowledge that MSM are whole people with a range of healthcare needs, and understanding that provider engagement can enable youth and older MSM to develop healthier lifestyles.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent pledge of more than $35 million to focus on key populations—also made at the conference—should be a step forward in getting MSM worldwide the appropriate HIV care they require.

“Because of the new science and because of the attention paid to the needs and rights of LGBT people, there can be no AIDS-free generation until there is one for gay men and LGBT people,” said Collins. “But by working together and demanding equality in rights and health, we can achieve an AIDS-free generation for gay men and in the process advance our rights and the rights and health of others.”