Washington, D.C. -- Earlier today the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) held the fifth biennial pre-conference to the International AIDS Conference to assess the current state of the global HIV epidemic and response among gay men, other men who have sex with men (MSM), and transgender people. With over 800 delegates from more than 100 countries in attendance, the pre-conference has become the world's largest event focused on the health and human rights of MSM and transgender people.
The pre-conference opened with powerful plenary speeches by the Honorable Congresswoman Barbara Lee, former High Court Judge Michael Kirby, and Dr. Kevin Fenton, Director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.
MSM are on average more than 19 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population in low- and middle-income countries, according to Dr. Fenton. In middle-income countries alone, the rate is more than 23 times higher.
"We must remember that this is an enemy to the whole human family," said the Honorable Michael Kirby, speaking of the HIV epidemic. "And that it concerns two epidemics: the epidemic of HIV and AIDS, and the epidemic of prejudice, discrimination, and hostility to sexual minorities in all parts of our globe."
Jamaican activist Maurice Tomlinson delivered the first annual Robert Carr Memorial Lecture, named after the well-respected international AIDS activist who died one year ago. The Robert Carr Memorial Lecture will be delivered once biennially to coincide with the International AIDS Conference.
"It is easier to hate a concept than to hate a person," Tomlinson said. "We need to start telling our stories. If we don't, we can be assured the same stereotypes will continue."
The plenary sessions also included a live video feed to Kolkata, India, where the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) is holding its own pre-conference event, as legal restrictions prevent sex workers from entering the United States. NSWP's Kemal Ordek addressed the delegates, emphasizing that there is still much work to be done to ensure the global AIDS response includes all key affected populations.
"How can we 'turn the tide together' when so many of us are still unable to participate in events like the International AIDS Conference?" Ordek asked.
The event featured more than 20 break-out sessions focused on a wide range of topics concerning the global AIDS response among MSM, including the latest developments in HIV preventions science, the shifting landscape of global AIDS funding, and the criminalization of homosexuality. Program content was determined by an online survey of MSM and transgender advocates and service providers around the world to identify which topics would be most valuable to their work.
"The people gathered here represent an unparalleled collection of knowledge and experience at every level of the HIV response for gay men and transgender people," said Dr. George Ayala, Executive Director of the MSMGF. "We will not miss this opportunity to harness the collected excellence in this room to drive the global movement for MSM health and human rights. What is discussed here today will be catalogued in an evolving global action agenda, helping to guide our response to HIV among these populations in an informed, inclusive way."
"The tools are there for us to do it," said the Honorable Michael Kirby, referring to ending the dual epidemics of HIV and homophobia. "But it is a complex and difficult task, and it won't happen with certainty. We are not released from our obligation to make a difference."
The full program of today's event is available at: www.msmgf.org/files/msmgf//documents/FSTS_2012_Program.pdf.
These issues will be discussed in further detail at a press conference on Wednesday, July 25th. The press conference, entitled "MSM in the Global Epidemic: Implications of the Changing Prevention and Treatment Landscape," will be taking place at the International AIDS Conference press center from 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM in Press Conference Room 1 (PCR1).