The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) has called for urgent investment to stem the unchecked HIV epidemics continuing to sweep through men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender populations in Asia and the Pacific.
AFAO Executive Director Don Baxter said the Gillard Government needed to boost investment by at least $30 million over the nect five year to effectively reduce HIV infections among MSM.
“The Australian Government invested seriously for injecting drug use four years ago, but still has not invested significantly in prevention for men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender, even though we know they will be contributing more new HIV infections than those arising from injecting over the next decade,” he said.
“The 2010 UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, released this week for World AIDS Day, confirms that MSM have HIV infection rates which are orders of magnitude greater than the general population in every low and middle country we look at.
“Last week the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria released a report showing very few countries are investing funds in prevention for MSM — with the only honourable exception being Thailand.
“The Gillard Government laudably increased Australia’s contribution to the Global Fund by 55 percent this year, but it has not increased the very small allocation of funds — less than $2m per year — for the fasting-growing epidemics in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Baxter said nothing short of a significant financial investment would help stem the tide of new infections.
“We call on the Australian Government to urgently allocate $30m over the next five years for an effective program which reduces HIV infections among MSM — among both their male and their many female sexual partners,” Baxter said.
“This investment by Australia is a matter of both generosity and self-interest. The cultural, tourism and business ties that bind us to our region mean Australia should act now before these epidemics all get way out of hand — as has already happened in Thailand and Myanmar.
Baxter said Australia’s current investment in Asia Pacific HIV prevention involved contributing more than $60 million over five years with injecting drug use, compared to less than $1 million for HIV prevention among gay and bisexual men.
The AFAO investment call comes the day after a new global survey revealed a majority of men who have sex with men (MSM) globally find it difficult or impossible to access HIV testing, HIV counseling, free condoms and free lubricant.
The survey of 5000 people globally showed fewer than half of MSM worldwide have access to even the most basic HIV prevention and services. Of all respondents, only 39 percent reported easy access to free condoms and barely one in four reported easy access to free lubricant. A full 25 percent said free lubricant was completely unavailable. Large percentages of men reported that it was difficult or impossible to access other essential services as well, including HIV testing (57 percent), HIV education materials (66 percent) and HIV treatment (70 percent).
Conducted by the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) in collaboration with Dr Patrick Wilson, Assistant Professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, the survey was carried out online in Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.
It was circulated through the MSMGF’s global networks and those of its partner Fridae.com, the survey closed with a total of 3,875 MSM and 1,009 MSM service providers participating – another 375 participants did not identify themselves as MSM or provider. Nearly three quarters of all study participants were from low or middle income countries.
“Since the beginning of the epidemic, it has been widely recognised that condoms, lubricant, testing and treatment, when combined with community-led behavior change and support programs, are the most reliable tools available in the fight against HIV among MSM,” MSMGF executive officer Dr George Ayala said.
“More than 25 years in, it is inexcusable that MSM around the world continue to have such restricted access to these basic lifesaving resources.”
MSMGF senior education associate Patrick Herbert said access to basic HIV prevention tools and testing needed serious attention.
“With the excitement surrounding the promise of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), it can be easy to forget that we already have a rich selection of prevention measures that we know work right now,” he said.
“Today’s findings reinforce the fact that we can’t even get condoms and lube to more than half of MSM around the world. We must look seriously at barriers that prevent MSM in different country contexts from accessing these proven prevention tools.”