HIV prevention for men who have sex with men

A technical forum was held at Sunnyside Park Hotel to discuss new evidence in HIV prevention for men who have sex with men (MSM) in Eastern and Southern Africa on March 28.

According to a clinician at Anova Health Institute Dr Kevin Rebe, Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a key tool in the HIV prevention for strengthening sexual health care services for MSM.

The pill, which prevents HIV  infection by up to 100% when used properly by uninfected people, has been licensed in South Africa and Kenya.

Rebe said that evidence from a range of international clinical trials shows that PrEP is safe and effective and does not predispose users to get other STIs.

“Daily PrEP is safe, effective and convenient.

“The popular myths about regular use causing MSM to engage in more risky behaviour and contracting more STIs are not true.

“However it is imperative that provision of PrEP is supported by continual education and counselling that encourages sexually safe lifestyles,” said Dr Rebe.

In South Africa, Anova Health Institute – an organisation that provides a range of HIV prevention services for MSM and other vulnerable groups – is conducting a demonstration project among 400 MSM in Johannesburg and Cape Town to investigate the feasibility of a nurse-driven programme to roll out PrEP in primary healthcare.

“While we don’t have accurate estimates for the size of the MSM population in South Africa and other African countries, this sizeable group has unique social and health challenges. We must ensure that they receive the same quality of health services that is available to the general population,” said Dr James McIntyre, chief executive officer of the Anova Health Institute.

“Even in a country like South Africa where the rights of MSM are protected by the constitution, a lot still needs to be done before PrEP can be made widely available,” he said.

Anova is currently training staff from over 250 South African primary health care clinics to instil a culture of acceptance and non-prejudice towards MSM and improve overall competence in diagnosing and treating health issues unique to MSM.

Gavin Reid from the International HIV/AIDS Alliance revealed the successful strategies of the Sexual Health and Rights Programme (SHARP) for working in hostile environments by forming partnerships with other health organisations, advocacy groups, and policymakers.

“Our approach in different countries is to harness the expertise of community- based organisations that are already working tirelessly to improve the quality of life of MSM by giving psychosocial, legal and financial assistance.

People have been able to work under extraordinary circumstances and it is not enough to mobilise communities without strengthening their structures with technical advice and funds,” said Reid.

Other delegates at the forum emphasised the need for a hastened response to ensure that MSM receives the same standard of healthcare that is provided to members of the general population.

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Mxolisi Simanga

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