Pattaya Daily News

11 August 2008 :: 13:08:29 pm 29042

Global Aids Prevention Gives Short Shrift To Gays

MEXICO CITY (AP) Jorge Saavedra‘s moment of truth came in the middle of an impassioned speech to 5,000 people about the paltry amount of money being spent to stop the spread of AIDS among gay men.
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The Mexican federal official paused, then said publicly for the first time that he was gay. As he held up a photo of himself with his partner, the crowd applauded wildly. Afterward, men from Africa and India congratulated him with tears in their eyes.

“They told me that I was a hero, and that they wished they could do the same in their countries,” said Saavedra, who is infected with HIV and also heads the AIDS prevention program in a country where many gay men live in denial.

Saavedra’s coming out on Tuesday at the International AIDS Conference sent a powerful message to the world: Homophobia must be stamped out if AIDS is to be controlled. Fewer people are dying from AIDS, but new HIV infections among gay and bisexual men in many countries are rising at alarming rates.

Yet less than 1 percent of the $669 million reported in global prevention spending targets men who have sex with men, according to UNAIDS figures from 2006, the latest available data.

UNAIDS says these men receive the lowest coverage of HIV prevention services of any at-risk population. And experts say discrimination has driven gay and bisexual men in developing nations underground ? turning them into one of the epidemic’s hardest groups to reach. From Mexico to India, a surprising number of men who have sex with men insist they are not gay, and in many countries, governments still refuse to admit homosexuality exists.

“It’s very difficult to provide services to men who have sex with men in countries that don’t acknowledge they exist or criminalize them if they do exist,” said Craig McClure, executive director of International AIDS Society, which organized the conference. In 86 nations, homosexual sex is considered a crime, and in seven countries it is punishable by death, according to the Foundation for AIDS Research, known as Amfar. During the conference’s inauguration, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged nations “to follow Mexico’s bold example and pass laws against homophobia.” In 2003, Mexico banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, and it has opened what it calls homophobic-free health clinics. The government has a national campaign that includes radio spots with mothers accepting their gay sons. Saavedra’s program has earmarked 10 percent of its $12 million budget toward prevention among gay and bisexual men.

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Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : PDN staff   Category : World News

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