There has been a dramatic increase in the number of men who have s-e-x with men who took HIV tests over the past few months.
Since November, health non-governmental organisation Right to Care said they had been able to reach out to more than 10 million men as part of their Me1st campaign
The campaign is aimed at empowering men to put their health first, get tested for HIV and go on to antiretroviral treatment if they test positive.
The organisation said men who had s-e-x with men, also referred to as MSM, “face devastating stigma and discrimination in society but especially when seeking healthcare services”.
Right to Care MSM marketing co-ordinator Andrew Lethole said: “There has been a dramatic increase in the number of MSM who have tested for HIV in urban and hard-to-reach areas across South Africa. As a result of our Me1st movement, a high percentage of the men who tested HIV-positive have been supported in accessing healthcare services and are now on antiretroviral treatment.”
The organisation said South Africa had the biggest HIV epidemic in the world, with some 7.2 million people living with HIV.
“UNAIDS recently released a report showing that 47% of new HIV infections globally are among key populations, which includes men who have sex with men. HIV prevalence in the general population is at 19% in South Africa. However, among men who have s-e-x with men it is 27%, and this figure is even higher in major metropolitan areas such as Johannesburg, where prevalence rates as high as 40% have been documented.”
Lethole said the organisation was “engaging with MSM in a safe and confidential environment and addressing the apathy and fear that many men experience around HIV testing”.
“More men now know where they can get tested for HIV and how to access treatment and care,” Lethole said.
He said the Me1st movement “focused on reaching as many HIV-positive men as possible and then linking them to antiretroviral therapy and care”.
Right to Care works with Rainbow Seeds in Bloemfontein and Welkom in the Free State; the Durban Gay & Lesbian Community & Health Centre, which also has a site in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal; the Social Health & Empowerment Coalition of Transgender Women in Africa, in East London; and Lifeline in Kimberley.
The Anova Health Institute has implemented a complementary MSM campaign in Joburg and in Mbombela, Mpumalanga.
Lethole added: “Our strong relationship with the Department of Health has also ensured that many public clinics across the country are sensitised towards the MSM community, and provide free, confidential and judgment-free HIV and STI screening and treatment.”