This year, South Africa celebrates 25 years of democracy and quite recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the legalisation of same-sex marriages. Despite these achievements, most of society remains closed off to the idea of two men in a sexual relationship.
The South African HIV LGBT Plan, launched in 2017, highlights stigma and discrimination as being one of the leading impediments to men who have sex with men testing and being on treatment.
The Me1st Campaign, launched by the country’s largest health NGO, Right to Care late last year, targets men who have sex with men (MSM) and encourages them to test for HIV and get on treatment should they test positive. It also encourages these men to ‘come out’ to themselves about their sex lives and take charge of their health.
Research has revealed that men who have sex with men, who are a mix of heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual men are at higher risk of being infected with HIV. The Me1st campaign seeks to bridge the gap, caused by the stigma and discrimination, by linking these men to confidential and sensitive health services that understand their sexual practices.
“There’s a need to encourage men who have sex with men to test regularly for HIV and to get treatment if they test positive. It is important to encourage preventative measures including condoms, PrEP and PEP,” said Ian Ralph, Group Chief Operations Officer, Right to Care. “It is also important to make these men aware that their sexual desires and habits are okay and normal, and they won’t be judged for them. As Right to Care, we are committed to providing adequate services to these men.”
The Me1st Campaign has been on a roadshow over the past four months to various communities in the country, including Durban, East London, Bloemfontein and Kimberly to educate men about the benefits of regular testing and ARV treatment.
Through local partner organisations, which include clinics, NGO’s and service providers, the Me1st campaign has appealed to men who have sex with men to reach out, test, if testing negative to stay negative through practising safe sex and if positive to go on treatment and avail other preventative measures such as PrEP and PEP, which can be accessed through local partner organisations and other sensitive clinics.
At the heart of this campaign is being able to provide services that are free of judgment, sensitive to the realities of men who have sex with men and are confidential. Me1st works with ambassadors who include actors Nakhane, Cedric Fourie, Moshe Ndiki and Bongs Ndima to push their message.
“Men have sex with other men for various reasons – for pleasure, exploring curiosities or as work. These reasons are all valid and should not mean these men are judged for their choices, especially when they seek health care services,” said Ndiki. “The Me1st campaign is aware of the challenge and wishes to inform these men that they can come to our centres, test, get on treatment and access other services free of judgment and with confidence guaranteed.”
The Me1st campaign puts MSMs well-being above everything else. It’s messages include:
• Knowing my status with regular HIV, TB and STI screening and to know my rights.
• Choosing Me1st affiliated clinics.
• Educating myself on my sexual health and safe sex.
• Being on treatment if I am HIV positive.
• Using a condom every time.
• Asking my partners if they know their status.
• Getting help for mental wellbeing if needed and living judgement free.
For more information and to find about Me1st activations taking place visit www.me1st.co.za or www.facebook.com/me1stSA/ or contact the Whatsapp line (072 637 6212).