Prof James McIntyre, Zackie Achmat and David Furnish

David Furnish, Elton John’s partner, attended the official launch of the Health4Men service for ‘men who have sex with men’ (MSM) and the Playnice campaign in Cape Town last week during the Cape Town Pride Festival.

Furnish, a filmmaker and a trustee of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, participated in the event along with internationally recognised treatment and human rights activist, Zackie Achmat.

Health4Men is billed as an innovative programme of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU) that targets men from underserved populations, including MSM, and unemployed young men in South Africa.

The first Health4Men service opened in De Waterkant the heart of Cape Town’s “gay village”. Here men can access services that include free HIV tests, CD4 counts, STI screening, counselling and be referred to appropriate medical and psychosocial services.

A larger clinic is soon to be opened at Woodstock Hospital in partnership with the Western Cape Department of Health. PHRU intends to open Health4Men services in other provinces in the future.

Play Nice is a safe sex campaign that links with Health4Men to raise awareness on MSM sex and HIV-prevention and treatment issues. It promotes better sexual practices with frank and relevant information that offers ways reduce the chance of being infected by sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and draws men into care programmes. Play Nice is supported by the PHRU and HIVSA.

Furnish, who specifically came to Cape Town to support the launch, commented: “Africa’s HIV/AIDS response has been hugely scaled up over the last few years; however MSM have received little of this attention.

“The Health4Men and Playnice campaigns signal a renewed commitment to meeting the needs of this community in the Western Cape and I am pleased to be able to help launch these during Cape Town Pride. As a Trustee of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, I am very aware of the critical need for government HIV/AIDS services to be made more accessible to MSM around the world,” he said.

Prof James McIntyre, Executive Director of the PHRU, added: “The Health4Men team, headed by Kevin Rebe, a specialist and experienced HIV physician and Glenn De Swardt, one of South Africa’s leading experts on gay issues, are building a model programme that will benefit men across the country and beyond in the future”.

According to PHRU, men and, in particular, MSM, have been neglected in most South African HIV programmes in the past, which have focused on the dominant heterosexual and female HIV epidemic.

Results from recent survey conducted in Soweto, Gauteng, in collaboration with the University of San Francisco, found that around 21% of MSM were HIV-positive. Forty four percent reported that they had also had sex with women and 41% reported unprotected anal intercourse among their last five partners.

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