Dramatic increase in HIV tests amongst men who have sex with men in East London

Tuesday, 5 March 2019: Health NGO Right to Care’s Me1st campaign which is calling on men who have sex with men (MSM) in East London and across South Africa to test for HIV and go onto antiretroviral treatment if they test positive.  The Me1st campaign focuses on the health and wellbeing of men who have sex with men and has seen positivity yield rates in East London increase from 3% in November last year to 11% earlier this year.

Positivity yield rates are the number of people who test and who are HIV positive. It is very important that those who are HIV positive are aware of their status and begin treatment immediately to stop the spread of HIV and to ensure patients remain healthy.

Right to Care and its partner in East London the Social Health & Empowerment Coalition of Transgender Women in Africa  invite men who have sex with men to attend Me1st activations in the city this week. The activations offer free, offer confidential testing, provide information about MSM and are safe environments where men can share their experiences and ask questions.

Venue Date Time
Amalinda Complex

Old Boxer Rank

Thursday, 7 March 2019 10:00 – 16:30
Ziphunzana Circles

Scenery Park Main

Friday, 8 March 2019 10:00 – 16:30
Ginsburg Rank

King Williams Town

Saturday, 9 March 2019 10:00 – 16:30
Bisho Busy Corner

Berlin Rank

Sunday 10, March 2019 10:00 – 16:30

Men who have sex with men face devastating stigma and discrimination in society but especially when seeking healthcare services. As a key population disproportionally affected by HIV and sexually transmitted infections, the Me1st movement focuses on reaching as many HIV positive men as possible and then linking them to antiretroviral therapy and care. It is being funded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and rolled out by Right to Care, which is working with local NGOs located in the Eastern Cape as well as in Gauteng, the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape and Mpumalanga.

Rose Ross, program manager at the Social Health & Empowerment Coalition of Transgender Women in Africa says, “The Me1st activations have demonstrated a higher volume of MSM testing for HIV than usual and MSM who test with us know they can access safe spaces for health services.”

South Africa has the biggest HIV epidemic in the world with some 7.2 million people currently living with HIV. UNAIDS recently released areport 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, amongst men who have sex with men, it is 27% and this figure is even higher in major metropolitan areas, where prevalence rates as high as 40% have been documented.

Me1st.co.za is interactive with a confidential chatline handled by qualified counsellors 24-7, many of whom are MSM themselves. The WhatsApp line (072 637 6212) has also been highly successful in engaging men and providing accurate information.

Ian Hove, programme manager for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria at Right to Care says, “Our strong relationship with the South African Department of Health has also ensured that many public clinics across the country are sensitised towards the MSM community, and provide free, confidential and judgement-free HIV and STI screening and treatment.”

While South Africa’s constitution protects the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, many men who have sex with men face stigma, discrimination and even violence. This prevents them from disclosing their sexual preferences, even to healthcare workers, which means they have traditionally not accessed HIV prevention and treatment services.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *