#Hiring: Australia’s national peak HIV organisation, the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), is loo… https://t.co/Ql3mM0XopQ
A sombre and moving opening to the MSMGF Pre-Conference as delegates killed in the shooting down of flight MH17 were honoured by a minute’s silence and tributes from plenary speakers, including Don Baxter and incoming President of the IAS, Chris Beyrer. Beyrer in particular pointed out that the tragedy highlighted the strong coalition that drives the HIV response, with researchers, activists and policymakers travelling together and losing their lives on the flight. Beyrer went on to encourage strong engagement at the conference, highlighting developments in biomedical prevention in particular. However, he acknowledged the risk of leaving behind vulnerable populations, particularly men who have sex with men in countries which feature violent suppression of homosexuality. Achieving basic coverage of HIV prevention in these contexts remains extraordinarily difficult.
Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS, emphasised how the violation of human rights of men who have sex with men and transgender people in many countries poses such a threat to the HIV response, fuelling stigma, discrimination and violence and preventing people from accessing HIV prevention and treatment. Sidibe implied that it is difficult to see how we could achieve bold global targets without fighting to protect the rights of all people affected by HIV and by encouraging peace, security, equality and health. Sidibe concluded by saying, ‘no more to exclusion, bigotry and AIDS.’
My colleague, Peter Aggleton, from the Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW, gave a plenary presentation in which he argued that the current fixation on scientific solutions to HIV often appears to neglect the ways that people live and behave, failing to harness the creativity and passion of affected communities. Taking something of a risk at a conference with MSM in the title, Aggleton highlighted his role with others in creating the category ‘men who have sex with men’ to help describe a range of homosexually active (or not so active) men. Peter said that those ‘experts’ never realised the force that the label MSM would gather around itself, making invisible complex cultures, practices and identities. Aggleton highlighted the ways in which the professionalisation of the field, including the community sector, often distances activists and educators from the communities with which they work. He concluded that we need to remember the anger and passion that kept the concerns of gay, bisexual and other ‘MSM’ central to the response to ensure that biomedical strategies like ‘test and treat’ and PrEP are critically evaluated rather than unquestioned and imposed.
The final plenary speaker, Kene Esom from African Men for Sexual Health and Rights, argued eloquently for a nimble range of diplomacy, activism and engagement, both loud and public as well as quiet and behind the scenes, to challenge violence, educate policymakers and advocate for the rights of LGBTI people so that HIV prevention can gain purchase in more countries in Africa.