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International Networks of Gay Men Unite to Fight HIV

Global and regional MSM networks to coordinate efforts worldwide

On April 18 the major regional networks of men who have sex with men (MSM) and the Global Forum on MSM & (MSMGF) announced they have joined forces to form a unified front against HIV to protect the health and human rights of MSM worldwide. The consortium, which includes international networks from Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, will work to coordinate the efforts of thousands of human rights groups and HIV service providers around the world.

"People talk about milestones in the history of movements," said Joel Nana, executive director of the African Men for Sexual Health and Rights.

"This is one of those times in our global movement. We are uniting our efforts for MSM health and rights, and we are reclaiming the response to HIV in our communities. The persistent HIV burden among MSM in all regions and the severe inequity in global funding call for nothing less than a coordinated approach."

The consortium was formed through a series of meetings between regional and global networks that took place in Oakland, California. The consortium includes the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM), the African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (AMSHeR), Asociacion para la Salud Integral y Ciudadania en America Latina y el Caribe (ASICAL), the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), the European Coalition on Male Health (ECOM), and the MSMGF.

Recent research has estimated that HIV prevalence among gay men and other MSM is as high as 15 percent in South Asia, 18 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, 15 percent in Latin America, 25 percent in the Caribbean, and 6.6 percent in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Despite the disproportionate disease burden shouldered by MSM, existing research indicates that MSM programs receive only 2 percent of global HIV prevention funding. Access to HIV services remains low for MSM around the world, hindered by a lack of targeted resources and homophobia among service providers.

"MSM-led grassroots organizations make up the bulk of the response to HIV among MSM in most parts of the world," said Dr. George Ayala, Executive Director of the MSMGF. "While these organizations are best suited to meet the needs of local MSM, they often work in hostile environments with a severe lack of funding and capacity support. MSM-led network organizations are uniquely positioned to hear the concerns of frontline organizations and respond appropriately with targeted community-based research, technical support, and advocacy with funders and policy-makers."

AMSHeR, APCOM, ASICAL, CVC, ECOM, and the MSMGF will work in collaboration to address a number of priority issues in the immediate future:

- Coordinating advocacy to ensure that funding through Global Fund and other donors is commensurate with disease burden as demonstrated by epidemiologic research.

- Developing a unified global emergency response system to support grassroots MSM activists, especially MSM living with HIV, who are targets of violence, unfair arrest and imprisonment.

- Documenting the vital role played by LGBT-led community organizations in responding to HIV among MSM.

"We are adamant in our resolve to work together in calling out injustice and correcting the gross misalignment of global AIDS funding," said Dr. Ayala. "It is no longer acceptable for us to stand by politely while governments under-invest in our communities and large mainstream healthcare organizations with little knowledge of our realities pose as experts on our behalf. Too much is at stake."

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