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Sonke Gender Justice welcomes UNAIDS World AIDS Day report on the urgent need to reach men and boys with HIV services

1 December 2017 HIV/AIDS & TB, Men's Health

SONKE GENDER JUSTICE WELCOMES UNAIDS WORLD AIDS DAY REPORT ON THE URGENT NEED TO REACH MEN AND BOYS WITH HIV SERVICES AND TO ADDRESS THE HARMFUL GENDER NORMS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO MEN’S AND WOMEN’S VULNERABILITIES TO HIV AND AIDS.

WE CALL ON GOVERNMENTS AROUND THE WORLD, AND ESPECIALLY IN SOUTHERN AND EASTERN AFRICA, TO ACT ON THE RECOMMENDATIONS CONTAINED IN THE REPORT AND TO URGENTLY PUT IN PLACE STRATEGIES TO BETTER REACH MEN AND BOYS WITH HIV SERVICES AND TO ACCOMPANY THESE WITH POLICIES AND PROGRAMMES THAT ADVANCE GENDER EQUALITY

Sonke congratulates UNAIDS on their World AIDS Day report titled “Blind Spot: Reaching out to men and boys”. Sonke has been engaged in ongoing advocacy to draw attention to men’s poor access to HIV services and the devastating consequences this has for men, women and our collective ability to prevent HIV and AIDS. We welcome this report.

The report finds a good balance between reaffirming commitment to addressing women’s rights and needs in the HIV response, on the one hand, and acknowledging men’s very poor HIV outcomes and the urgent need to get men into HIV services on the other.

We agree with UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé when he says: “Addressing the inequalities that put women and girls at risk of HIV is at the forefront of the AIDS response. But there is a blind spot for men – men are not using services to prevent HIV or to test for HIV and are not accessing treatment on the scale that women are.”

We also affirm his remarks that getting men into services is good for all of us and for the AIDS response: “When men access HIV prevention and treatment services, there is a triple dividend,” says Mr Sidibé. “They protect themselves, they protect their sexual partners and they protect their families.”

The Blind Spot report shows that men are less likely to take an HIV test, less likely to access antiretroviral therapy and more likely to die of AIDS-related illnesses than women. It also shows that “globally less than half of men living with HIV are on treatment, compared to 60% of women. Studies show that men are more likely than women to start treatment late, to interrupt treatment and to be lost to treatment follow-up.”

It also reveals that, “in sub-Saharan Africa, men and boys living with HIV are 20% less likely than women and girls living with HIV to know their HIV status, and 27% less likely to be accessing treatment. In KwaZulu-Natal, the province with the highest HIV prevalence in South Africa, only one in four men aged 20–24 years living with HIV in 2015 knew that they had the virus.”

The report makes clear the consequences of men’s limited access to services. It reveals that men “face greater likelihood of death from AIDS-related causes while on treatment” and provides examples from South Africa. “Analysis of clinic data from South Africa has shown that men were 25% more likely than women to die from AIDS-related causes, even though women were more likely to be living with HIV.”

Sidibé draws attention to the urgent need to shift harmful norms of masculinity that discourage men from seeking HIV services: “The concept of harmful masculinity and male stereotypes create conditions that make having safer sex, taking an HIV test, accessing and adhering to treatment – or even having conversations about sexuality – a challenge for men,” said Mr Sidibé.

Initiatives like Sonke’s One Man Can, Brothers for Life and MenCare campaigns have been shown to effectively challenge harmful gender norms held by men and successfully get men into HIV services. These need to be adopted by our governments across the region and rolled out at scale.

This report and the opportunity it represents reflects hard work over many years by Sonke and our partners, especially the Athena Network, International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), Promundo, and MenEngage Africa. Together, we have partnered with UNAIDS and other UN agencies for nearly a decade to draw attention to the blind spot they bring into sharp focus with this timely report.

As part of our efforts to draw attention to this sustained blind spot in the AIDS response, Sonke, IPPF and UNAIDS convened a high level meeting at UNAIDS headquarters in Geneva in December 2015 to analyse the data, agree on joint priorities and to launch the Global Platform for Action on Men and HIV, which focuses on two key strategies: implementing evidence-based policies and practices that increase men’s active support for gender equality, and, getting men into HIV services.

Today, we also release a new short film co-produced by Sonke and UNAIDS on how to engage men and boys, and we release two new publications: a promising practices brief documenting best practices implemented at scale in East and Southern Africa to engage men, and an analysis of national policies on men, gender and health in thirteen countries across East and Southern Africa.

The UNAIDS press release accompanying the report concludes with a message we reiterate: “The Blind spot shows that by enabling men to stay free from HIV, get tested regularly and start and stay on treatment if HIV-positive, the benefits will not only improve male health outcomes, but will contribute to declines in new HIV infections among women and girls and to altering harmful gender norms.”

We congratulate UNAIDS on this important report and convey our gratitude to our colleagues in many UNAIDS offices for their hard work.

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