No-show: Minister of Health,
Dr Aaron Motsoaledi

The Minister of Health has admitted that not enough has been done to reach men who have sex with men (MSM) in South Africa when it comes to HIV.

Speaking at the opening of the Top2Btm symposium in Cape Town, Dr. Yogan Pillay, Chief Director of Strategic Planning at the National Department of Health, emphasised the need for an HIV strategy that is “much more nuanced and targeted”.

Minister of heath Aaron Motsoaledi was due to open the three day symposium dedicated to the sexual health of men who have sex with men, but was unable to attend and sent Pillay in his stead.

Reading the Minister’s speech, Pillay said: “Even though the Strategic Plan mentions men who have sex with men, we certainly haven’t done enough to protect this group”.

Recent studies have indicated that the prevalence of HIV is much higher among MSM than the general population. “We do not know how the epidemic affects MSM nationally as we only have small regional studies to rely on at this point,” Pillay said, emphasising the need for more data.

MSM are at a much greater risk of contracting HIV. Research presented by Dr. Chris Beyrer of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health indicates that the risk of contracting HIV during anal sex is 18 times higher than during penile-vaginal sex.

Add to this what Beyrer calls the structural and network risks facing MSM – including the impact that stigma and prejudice have on discouraging MSM to access health services – and it becomes clear why a renewed focus on HIV treatment and prevention for MSM is so critical.

It is a need that the Health Department seems increasingly committed to addressing.

“We are very grateful to support centres like the Ivan Toms and Simon Nkoli Centers for Men’s Health as examples of the kinds of services we need to roll out”, said Pillay.

The Ivan Toms Centre for Men’s Health in Woodstock, Cape Town and the Simon Nkoli Center in Soweto are run by Health4Men an initiative by the Anova Health Institute and are dedicated to the sexual health of men who have sex with men.

The opening marked the beginning of two further days dedicated to the sexual health of MSM in the context of South Africa’s alarming HIV epidemic. Researchers, medical professionals, policy makers and members of government will for the next two days be discussing HIV treatment, prevention and care for this group.

The Top2Btm symposium is hosted by the Anova Health Institute and is funded by PEPFAR.

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