Men who have sex with other men is the new frontier in fight against Aids

A THREE-DAY conference in Cape Town will from today focus on men who have sex with men as a key target group to consider in developing policy and interventions for HIV prevention and treatment

Called Top to Bottom, the conference is just three weeks away from the 30th anniversary of the first-ever diagnosis of Aids.

In 1982, GRID or Gay Related Immune Deficiency was the first name proposed to describe what is known as Aids today, as the condition was first seen among gay men in America.

But soon after, the face of the epidemic changed. It began to manifest in large numbers in general populations, with women becoming increasingly at risk.

The condition was then renamed Aids or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The re-definition inadvertently led to the shift of focus away from gay men - but with drastic consequences.

"There has been no government-focused MSM (men who have sex with men) prevention campaign. You don't see bill-boards that talk about this.

"It is very much a neglected population. I think that we moved so rapidly into a generalised epidemic where women were particularly at risk that that's been the major focus.

"But I think MSM  (men who have sex with men) as a group have been neglected and have been left at very high risk," says James McIntyre, chief executive of Anova Health Institute, organisers of the conference. But McIntyre believes that the government's attitude on this community is changing.

He draws the inspiration from the fact that Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has agreed to give the keynote address at the conference.

"That's indicative of the Department of Health and the minister's personal response to MSM  (men who have sex with men) and recognising the need for programming. That's very, very positive", he says.

Perhaps even more encouraging is the response by head of the SA National Aids Council, Nono Simelela, in a recent interview when asked what key issues the next national strategic plan on HIV-Aids, which is currently being formulated, should address.

"Men who have sex with men, women who are in relationships with other women but also have sex with men," Simelela says.

The conference is the first of its kind to discuss sexual health issues affecting gay men or men who have sex with other men on the African continent. - Health-e News

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