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GRASSROOTS: The GMT Initiative Blog

Grassroots reports on the work of amfAR-supported research teams and advocates responding to the devastating impact of HIV among gay men, other men who have sex with men, and transgender individuals (collectively, GMT).

Bogota, Colombia: Radio-Active!

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Bog Posted by Ben Clapham, March 8, 2011

Sitting in the studio in Bogota, thinking of what to say as a guest on “Sexo Sentido,” the first-ever Internet-based radio program for LGBT people in Latin America. The program is produced by the members of Radio Diversia, an amfAR MSM Initiative grantee. “Sexo Sentido,” a weekly two-hour program for gay men, transgender people, and other MSM, addresses HIV prevention and treatment and other problems that affects this diverse community. The theme for tonight is HIV testing.


Radio Diversia staff in their studio.

I have spent the past two days with the Radio Diversia group learning more about their activities and challenges. Since their radio program is the only media serving MSM and LGBT populations, it is a crucial way to distribute quality HIV prevention messages and sex-positive education. In Colombia, virtually all funding for HIV goes towards ARV provision. There are few condoms available, and even less access to lubricants. “Homophobia and discrimination are rampant in Colombia,” said Carlos Serrano, the director of Radio Diversia. His life was “threatened numerous times and at one point I was forced to flee the country and go in to hiding.” When he returned, the owner of the studio made them leave because of the threats so he had to run the radio show out of his own apartment.

In Colombia, HIV is low in the general population but infections continue to rise in vulnerable groups. “There are young men growing up in Colombia who have never heard one prevention message in their lives,” said Carlos. “Some do not even know that HIV can be transmitted between two men.” It seems incredible that the Radio Diversia team has persevered despite threats, vandalism, and scant funding. Their optimism can be seen in the work they are doing from the modest studio where they produce their shows.

Colombia is a recipient of Round 10 Global Fund support, a sizeable amount of which is designated for most-a-risk groups, including MSM and trans populations. But healthcare is not free in Colombia and few among the most vulnerable groups have the resources to pay for services. Even if they did, the waiting list for HIV treatment is more than 1,000 names long. At the end of the radio program I asked what someone could do if they tested positive. Carlos explained patiently and confidently—knowing their status, he said, allows a person to lend a helping hand by limiting transmission to others.