Two United Nations agencies are launching a plan to provide increased HIV-related information and health services to men who have sex with men and transgender populations, while stressing the need to make universal access to treatment, care and support a reality for all.
The initiative, spearheaded by the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), comes ahead of the International Day Against Homophobia, observed on 17 May.
“The case is clear and urgent,” said Jeffery O’Malley, Director of UNDP’s HIV group. “If we are going to make universal access for sexual minorities a meaningful reality, we must work towards ending homophobia and transphobia. We must address the legal and policy barriers.”
In a news release issued today, the agencies noted that in many parts of the world, HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is more than 20 times higher than in the general population.
In addition, studies show that HIV prevention services reach only one tenth to one third of people who engage in male homosexual activity. At the same time, there is growing evidence that the majority of new infections in many urban areas are among men who have sex with men.
“Yet, these same groups have limited access to HIV-related information and health services due to discrimination, violence, marginalization and other human rights violations,” the agencies stated. “In many countries, they still face criminal sanctions and lack access to justice.”
Paul De Lay, acting Deputy Executive Director at UNAIDS, stressed the need for rigorous monitoring by countries of the evolution of their epidemics, and for tailoring national responses to the needs of those most at risk.
“In many settings this will be men who have sex with men,” he said, adding that responses must be based on local epidemiological and social realities to be effective.
The plan being launched – the UNAIDS Action Framework: Universal Access for Men who have Sex with Men and Transgender People – outlines several factors that impede access to HIV services, such as unwillingness on the part of governments and donors to invest in the sexual health of sexual minorities.
It also sets out how UNAIDS will work towards achieving universal access through three main objectives – improving human rights, strengthening the evidence base through better data, and reinforcing capacity and promoting partnerships to ensure broader and better responses.
In a message to mark the International Day, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé called for greater efforts to end homophobia and ensure the barriers that stop access to HIV services are removed.
“I urge all governments to take steps to eliminate stigma and discrimination faced by men who have sex with men, lesbians and transgender populations. They must also create social and legal environments that ensure respect for human rights and enable universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support,” he stated.
Mr. Sidibé added that while governments committed in the 2006 UN Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS to removing legal barriers and passing laws to protect vulnerable populations, more than 80 countries still have legislation that prohibits same sex behaviour.