Men who have sex with men (MSM) living in East Africa, where homophobia is on the rise, now have access to a unique website, Afya4Men.info, which contains comprehensive sexual health information targeted to their specific needs.
The site came about after South Africa’s Health4Men, an innovative project of the Anova Health Institute, partnered with the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in 2013 to roll out a comprehensive education programme for MSM in Africa.
This has already resulted in health workers from several Eastern African countries being trained to address the sexual health needs of MSM.
“Specific MSM medical competence has already been developed in these countries but due to often hostile environments, in many instances including criminalisation of male-to-male sex, has resulted in a lack of localised relevant information being freely available to MSM themselves,” said Prof James McIntyre, CEO of Anova. “The Afya4Men.info site addresses this essential gap.”
Afya4Men.info is entirely bilingual, offering information in both Swahili and English. It has been designed to be easily accessed on any computer or mobile phone with an internet connection. All information can also be downloaded for easy sharing with others.
Gavin Reid, the Regional Programme Advisor for the Alliance’s Men’s Sexual Health and Rights Programme (SHARP), explained: “Information and education are the first steps toward MSM being able to protect themselves from HIV and other STIs. The Alliance’s programmes in Eastern Africa shows that opportunities for MSM in the region to access quality and holistic information has been extremely limited until now.”
Said Dr Andrew Tucker from Health4Men: “We deliberately developed the site for quick and easy use in environments where internet access is often limited. In time we will add additional information based on the feedback that we get from MSM in Eastern Africa.”
For Caroline Dorval Defferary, Grant Manager at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, strategic partnerships are important to achieving the goal of the Alliance. “The Alliance is committed to ending AIDS by supporting communities most affected by HIV. By combining our work in Eastern and Southern Africa with Health4Men’s unique and comprehensive expertise we are getting closer to that aim,” she said.
Health4Men’s Glenn de Swardt highlighted the increased use of mobile phone technology in messaging MSM, including men in rural areas and in hostile environments.
“Our h4m.mobi site, which provides comprehensive sexual health information designed specifically for MSM, has been very successful,” he said. “Moving forward we will be implementing both internet and mobile-based prevention and treatment campaigns, including developing innovative apps. The activation of the Afya4Men.info site is an important step in this direction.”