Study Looks into the Obstacles Gay Men Face in Getting Help with HIV/AIDS
For a third of MSM (men who have sex with men) worldwide, accessing condoms, lubricant, HIV tests and HIV treatment is easily accessible. For the rest, well, it's not so easy.
And a new study suggests the reasons for that percentage include homophobia, cultural competency and comfort with service providers, among other items.
This is but one of the findings of a global survey conducted over last summer by the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF). Stretching across 165 countries, the multi-lingual survey asked 5,779 gay men and other men who have sex with men about their access to treatment and preventative measures, as well as hygienic items. On top of the online survey, MSMGF shook hands with African Men for Sexual Health and Rights, which allowed for focused discussions groups to take place among 71 MSM across five cities in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.
The results were less than encouraging for MSMGF, which is a network of AIDS organizations, MSM networks and advocates that corroborate on ways to provide (and continue providing) effective HIV resources tailored to the needs of gay and other MSM.
"Such poor levels of access at the global level are unacceptable," said George Ayala, executive director of the MSMGF. "Even in upper to middle-income countries, MSM still have extremely low access to services."
Of men who participated in the online survey, only 35 percent reported that condoms were easily accessible, 21 percent reported easy access to lubricant, 36 percent reported easy access to HIV testing, and 42 percent reported easy access to HIV treatment.
Reduced access to services was most commonly reported in lower-income countries.
The study found that, among participants living with HIV, higher access to HIV treatment was associated with less homophobia and greater comfort with service providers.
Greater access to lubricants and greater access to HIV testing were also associated with less outness (what the researchers defined as the degree to which others know of one's sexual orientation) and less negative consequences for being out, respectively.
"As we collectively forge ahead into the new territory of treatment-based prevention, it is clear that many of the old challenges remain," said Noah Metheny, director of policy at the MSMGF. "Addressing structural barriers remains essential to realizing the potential of HIV interventions for MSM."
The take-away from the months-long research is that there's yet a way to go.
"The study's findings underscore the urgent need to improve access to essential HIV services for gay men and other MSM worldwide," said Ayala. "Successfully addressing HIV among MSM will require a real effort to address structural barriers, and the findings from this study suggest that investing in MSM-led community-based organizations may be the best way to do that."