Men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgendered people are amongst the most stigmatized populations in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). In spite of social tension and sensitivities, most countries in the region have recognized the importance of programming for, and working with, MSM to strengthen effective national AIDS responses. Nevertheless, existing prevention programmes have remained limited in scope and scale, highlighting limitations in coverage and quality.
In this context, UNAIDS brought together representatives from civil society, governments, national AIDS programmes and regional and international partners to a workshop in Lebanon to discuss ways to scale up interventions that focus on the needs of MSM in the region.
The workshop was organized in collaboration with Helem-Lebanese Protection for LGBT association, the International AIDS Alliance (AA) and the Regional Arab Network Against AIDS (RANAA). It focused on the outcomes of a policy research project entitled “Enabling Access to HIV Services for Men Who Have Sex with Men - Situational analysis and Partnership Development”. The main purpose of the research, conducted in Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia, was to identify ways to enable and facilitate this access to HIV services.
Existing repressive laws and policies deter MSM from seeking HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services. Currently 18 of the 21 countries that form the MENA region criminalize male to male sex behaviour — and four enforce capital punishment.
Participants at the meeting highlighted the importance of creating enabling environments that allow unrestricted dissemination of prevention messages and services, appropriate provision of HIV treatment, care and support services, and the empowerment of MSM and transgender population in planning, implementing and evaluating programme strategies.
Participants also reviewed a handbook developed by UNAIDS, based on field experiences and lessons learnt, to inform effective, expanded and culturally sensitive programmatic interventions among MSM and transgender people.
“Most programmes in MENA are still at a pilot stage. We need to scale up current programs using the extensive experience over the last years. This handbook, adapted to the region’s context, will hopefully inform interventions among MSM and transgender people,” said Ms Nicole Massoud, Regional Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor for the UNAIDS regional support team.
There are no reliable estimates of the number of men who have sex with men in the region. However, there is documented evidence of increased HIV spread and risk among MSM and transgender people, which may result in concentrated HIV epidemics over the next decade.