The Health4Men clinic is putting up a determined effort in the fight against high HIV and STI infection rates amongst men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) in and around Soweto.
Thanks to support from PEPFAR and USAID, the Simon Nkoli Centre for Men’s Health can offer free and confidential clinic services, which include men's health care check-ups, STI and HIV screening and medical treatment and prevention care. Innovative outreach projects, counselling for individuals and same-sex couples, a range of support groups – including groups for men living with HIV – as well as regular seminars and talks addressing topical issues related to men’s sexual and psychosocial health are also available for MSM.
MSM living in the township are aware that various studies have documented the very high HIV prevalence amongst MSM Sowetans in the past two years.
David Motswagae an outreach worker at the clinic, confirms: “Yes, they know – and it was great to see that most of them knew about the findings of the study, even if they found out from gay media on the web. Participants raised the issue during discussion groups, and most of them said: ‘why are you saying one in three of us are HIV positive? Why is it that other people are still in the closet – and we don’t know their status?”
Same-sex relationships remain difficult terrain for media and health communication in South Africa, and a lack of coverage of MSM issues in the media fuels the marginalization of MSM and their HIV prevention needs. At most, the media tends to reinforce stereotypes that all MSM are gay – or that they have the same HIV prevention needs as gay men. Typecasting all MSM – who do not usually self-identify as being gay – may also alienate this vulnerable group, and deter them from accessing targeted HIV services for fear of being labelled “gay”.
Infection rates have risen steadily in recent years among MSM, despite a decrease in the 1990’s – and according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), MSM account for 71% of all HIV infections in the U.S.A., where statistics also showed a 30 percent rise in syphilis outbreaks in 2009.
But the numbers for MSM in the USA are not much different from those in South Africa, and the results of three studies conducted in Johannesburg and Durban found that HIV prevalence rates among MSM were as high as about 38 percent – or double that found among South Africa’s general population.
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