Consultation on HIV and sex between men in eastern Europe and central Asia a success

HIV prevalence is reported to be up to 10 times higher among men who have sex with men and transgender people than among the general population in eastern European and central Asian cities. If countries fail to address the context of the epidemic, this already critical situation is likely to become worse.

This warning came during the First Regional Consultation on HIV, Men who have Sex with Men and Transgender People in eastern Europe and central Asia, convened by the United Nations. More than 150 government and civil society representatives from 15 eastern European and central Asian countries participated in this three-day consultation to discuss how to strengthen national responses to halt the rising HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men and transgender people. The meeting resulted in a set of recommendations that aim to increase the visibility of the issue in the region, strengthen the response and reduce the stigma and discrimination towards men who have sex with men and transgender people.

Dzmitry Filippau, director of the Russian Federation-based menZDRAV Centre for Social Development and Men’s Health Foundation, noted that “men who have sex with men are being infected with the virus at a pace that is not adequately addressed by national responses. They are not offered sufficient health services to protect themselves from infection and, compared to other parts of the world, have been relatively invisible in the response to HIV.”

“Policymakers in the region need to recognize the problem and respond to it in a coordinated way that draws on the experiences of civil society and medical and social care providers,” said Natalia Nizova, director of the Ukrainian AIDS Centre. “Ukraine has made some progress,” she noted. “For instance a new law on HIV/AIDS that will protect the rights of key populations most at risk has passed the first review in parliament.”

“The challenge of preventing HIV infection among men who have sex with men is both political and technical, and will require concerted efforts by governments, communities and those living with HIV,” said Jeffrey O’Malley, Director of UNDP’s HIV/AIDS Group. “Furthermore, stigma and discrimination are significant barriers to effective local responses. Therefore, programmes to creatively engage city governments and law enforcement agencies need to be included in city level HIV programming.”

The objective of the ground-breaking consultation is to strengthen national responses to HIV among men who have sex with men and transgender people by creating strategic partnerships between governments and civil society, sharing innovative and rights-based strategies on HIV prevention, care and support, and identifying resource mobilization opportunities to scale up responses.

Participants also discussed stigma and discrimination against sexual minorities and people living with HIV. Even in the absence of criminalization of same-sex practices, other legal provisions often violate the rights of men who have sex with men and transgender persons, as do arbitrary and inappropriate enforcement, which obstruct essential service delivery.

The consultation, convened by UNDP, WHO Regional Office for Europe, UNAIDS and UNFPA with support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, took place on 22-24 November 2010 in Kiev, Ukraine and featured the participation of public health officials and governmental representatives, civil society representatives, human rights activists, people living with HIV, young people, researchers and donors and international organizations.