Category Archives: Criminalization

Why men who have sex with men commemorate World AIDS Day

So as busy as I am (I have an exam tomorrow) I could not let today slip by (although its actually already Dec. 2 here 12:15 am) without taking a few moments to write about why as a community of men who have sex with men we (and I ) commemorate World AIDS day.   I at first wanted to write “celebrate”  but didn’t know if this was an appropriate term – however I do know that many of us are indeed celebrating the lives of many we have lost over the past thirty years.  Why we as a global community of men who have sex with men we commemorate World AIDS Day December 1:

1) There is still no cure: We must make policy makers aware that further funding needs to be dedicated to a cure for this virus – and current developments such as vaccines and rectal microbicides should be funded at a maximum level.  Infection rates continue to rise among men who have sex with men, and research into current and future developments need to continue to be funded until a cure is found.

2) To fight stigma: Millions of individuals are living with this virus and although there is global attention paid to the cause of HIV, tremendous stigma still exists against HIV+ individuals all over the world, especially HIV+ men who have sex with men. The truth is when we think of HIV, even on World AIDS day, one prefers to think about the pregnant mother acquiring the virus and transmitting it to her baby, rather than the thousands of MSM who contract the disease annually.

3) To remember those we have lost: Although I was born just at the beginning of the epidemic so many of my friends have lost loved ones – friends, relatives neighbors.  Today is a day to remember and honor the memories of these individuals.

4) To instill hope in a new generation of young men who have sex with men: HIV is still on the rise in our community, and young individuals who have not grown up in a generation of fear and loss must be educated and made aware of HIV, to prevent future epidemics and loss.  The generation who knows “a pill a day” must fully understand what it is like to live with HIV on a daily basis, and how to protect themselves from the virus.

5) People still die from HIV and AIDS related complications: While it is true excellent medications currently exist, the truth is some individuals, including long terms survivors will eventually loose their battle with HIV.  Because there is no cure (see #1) we must continue to acknowledge, that although a chronic treatable disease,  HIV does have the potential to kill men who have sex with men, especially in settings where treatments are not available.  For this reason we must continue to educate others and lobby our policymakers to make HIV/AIDS a top priority of the areas where they govern.

6) HIV truly does affect the world: Men who have sex with men are getting HIV in every nation.  Men of every socioeconomic level from every country will continue to acquire HIV from having sex with other men unless increased attention is paid to education, stigma against homosexuality is removed,  barriers to healthcare that exist in the MSM population are torn away, and laws that criminalize homosexuality are made a thing of the past.

7) Hope. Looking back and seeing the progress we have made as a world, and as a MSM community against HIV gives me renewed hope.  I am always optimistic on Dec. 1, despite the horrible toll that HIV has had on our community.

Until there is a cure we will continue to observe World AIDS Day.  It is my hope that in my lifetime, that all individuals, including my MSM brothers will be able to list HIV as one of the eradicated viruses of our time.

Dear Secretary Clinton…,

I thought I would post a letter that I would write to Hillary Clinton about her recent remarks at NIH this week, the video of which can be found below. I love the woman, but I am sad about her lack of any reference to MSM.  The speech was discussing how the US can lead the world in establishing an “AIDS Free generation”.   Sorry Secretary Clinton, but in most areas, even in areas with generalized epidemics like subSaharan Africa, MSM transmission and infection  rates are on the rise, and an AIDS free generation won’t magically appear without targeted aid and prevention efforts directed towards these groups.

Dear Secretary Clinton,

While I applaud the United States’ efforts in leading the world to fight AIDS, and its strong commitment to ensuring an AIDS free generation through programs such as PEPFAR, I am extremely  disappointed by your complete lack of any mention of men who have sex with men in your global prevention strategies.

You mention microbicides which “give women the power to protect themselves.”  Yes this is true, but there is also a robust (and largely underfunded and underpublicized) movement to develop a rectal microbicide to give MSM (and heterosexuals) the opportunity to protect themselves.    You talk about “combination prevention” that the US will lead including: ending mother to child transmission, expanding voluntary medical male circumcision and scaling up medical treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS.  There is no mention in this three pronged “AIDS Free generation plan” of addressing the prevention needs among vulnerable communities such as men who have sex with men, intravenous drug users and transgendered populations.   While I applaud the State Department’s efforts, targeting male circumcision and mother to child transmission, while not addressing prevention among men who have sex with men will not lead to an AIDS Free Generation.

Dr. Frits van Griesvan of the CDC, in his article , along with numerous other studies, detail the balooning rates of HIV among men who have sex with men with India, China,  and several areas of Latin America and subSaharan Africa.  PEPFAR II, has a specific directive targeting HIV prevention at MSM, and it is time for our government and your department to take action and put this plan into action – studies show that current prevention efforts only reach 10% of MSM around the world who would benefit from prevention education and programs.   You discuss a story about the Tanzanian mother infected with HIV concerned about passing it to her child.  What about the man in Botswana who has anal intercourse with another man without condoms because homosexuality is illegal in his country, and he has no education on how to maintain his health since the subject is never spoken about?  You briefly mention the presence of such laws making homosexuality illegal, but never further discuss this topic in the 30 minute speech.

You do mention “embracing treatment as prevention.”  While this prong is not directed toward MSM specifically, it obviously can help MSM currently living with HIV and prevent the spread of the virus among their communities.  For this I applaud you.  However, be aware that many MSM who present at clinic for such treatment will be stigmatized due to their sexual orientation  if it is disclosed, and may not feel comfortable obtaining treatment at traditional treatment clinics due to barriers to care that exist for MSM populations including providers who are homophobic, stigma against MSM and laws criminalizing homosexuality.

I have worked closely with the State Department in my past work before attending medical school, as I was employed by several USAID contractors.  In my capacity working towards improving the life of women and children around the world, I have seen the impact the the US, the State Department and its subsidiary USAID can have on the lives of individuals through improving health.  Why not give men who have sex with men the same fighting chance to protect themselves against HIV that you state you are giving to heterosexual men and women through promotion of male circumcision?

Thank you,

SR

Gaddafi: “Only homosexuals contract AIDS”

So as many of us know, the rebel movement in Libya has killed Muammar Gaddafi, and I have been trying to wrap my head around what this means for HIV and MSM in this Arab North African state.  It has been stated that Gaddafi has been quoted as saying that only homosexuals get AIDS, and has jailed homosexuals and made sex among two consenting males a crime.  According to the New Civil Rights Movement, Gaddafi is quoted as saying that he believed it was “impossible” for one to contract HIV through unprotected heterosexual intercourse.

As I have stated many times before, lack of political support for gay rights may cause MSM to be uneducated about HIV and sexual risk taking, and may cause MSM to engage in risky sexual behavior and fuel the spread of HIV.

However, as I have heard on the news that the new Libya wishes to embrace Islamic law, I am left wondering if anything will change in this arena.  As we know, past Arab regimes and current ones such as Iran are intolerant of gays or MSM, and I don’t know if a new strict Islamic rule will take the same stance, making homosexuality and its associated behaviors illegal.  Under strict Islamic law, even a democracy, I do not foresee an environment where Libyan MSM (or any Libyan) will be adequately educated in HIV prevention.   The country is just starting to understand and investigate what happened to cause hundreds of children to become infected with HIV in the late 1990s.  The incident was blamed on the foreign Bulgarian nurses working in the hospitals, who were kidnapped and released for ransom.  It is suspected that the infections came about from poor hospital hygiene.  There is obviously much to be learned in this nation about HIV, both for MSM and Libyan citizens.

I can only hope that freedom will bring education for men who have sex with men on the risks of unprotected sex. Hopefully the “new Libya” will embrace the ideas of education and equality for all to ensure that Libyans do not die needless deaths.

HIV+ gay man to be deported back to Uganda

A Ugandan gay men who is HIV positive has been fighting to not be returned to his native Uganda.  The 40 year old man, currently residing in London, has made repeated attempt to prevent his deportation to Uganda, a country known to be particularly hostile to gay individuals.  Homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in prison in Uganda, and a currently pending bill would impose the death penalty in certain instances, for example if there is evidence to show that the gay individuals transmitted HIV to others via sex.  The full article from the Advocate online cane be found here.  The UK government has denied that  the asylum seeker is gay, despite the evidence that he presented, including participation in a gay support group. All requests for asylum have been denied, and Mr. Said is set to be deported this weekend.

The anti-gay, HIV criminalization environment in Uganda is not new.  This past January, gay Ugandan activist David Kato  (pictured left)  was murdered for advocating for increased rights for sexual minorities .   In the US, there was controversy this past February when President Obama, spoke at the Fellowship prayer breakfast, as a member of the Fellowship, David Bahati , was the individual in Uganda responsible for drafting the anti-gay, HIV criminalization bill.

As this blog focuses on HIV, all of this leads to the larger discussion of criminalization of HIV.     Should an individual fear for their lives and not be able to live freely in their homeland because they have HIV?  In the opinion of this author, HIV criminalization serves no purpose.  Instead of educating individuals about HIV transmission and how to protect themselves, criminalization creates added stigma to HIV and makes it even more difficult for positive individuals to come forward tos eek the services that they need.  Criminalization also prevents individuals from being tested for fear of stigma. I do ponder that criminalization may be appropriate in instances where an individual knowingly transmits HIV to an individual, but I do not know enough legally about such a scenario to make an accurate judgment.   I do know that  I am sad that Mr. Said need to return to a country where he needs to fear for his life due to his sexual orientation and HIV status.