Speaking on behalf of the region, a Guyanese researcher has said that throughout the English-speaking Caribbean laws prohibiting same sex conduct and certain forms of gender expression lead state agencies to exclude men who have sex with men (MSM).
“Punitive laws inhibit targeted and effective programming,” Joel Simpson said this morning at the launch of a new report pointing to the neglect of MSM by international donors and governments. “State agencies feel their hands are tied in how far they can go providing social services to this population. They feel the law has castigated this group to the category of ‘unapprehended criminals’. That makes it difficult to get state agencies with the exception of some Ministries of Health and National AIDS Programs to support the population or provide services.”
New analysis conducted by the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and the Centre for Public Health and Human Rights at John Hopkins University reveals that funding to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS consistently fails to reach programs designed to control the epidemic among MSM in eight diverse countries. They say the situation is especially dire in places that criminalise same-sex sexual practices. When it comes to MSM these nations invest fewer resources in HIV-related health services, do less to track and understand the epidemic and are more likely to divert donor funds.
For instance the study found that in Guyana funding for MSM programs supported by the Global Fund (GF) dropped by 96 percent between initial proposal and final budget. And although the HIV prevalence of MSM in Guyana is 19.4 percent (as compared to an overall adult rate of 1.2 percent) programs for the community are limited to small-scale behavioural interventions and account for just 0.04 percent of their country budget.
“There is a lot of lip service in funding proposals but we can’t figure out where the money is going. It is certainly not reaching MSM proposals on the ground and the people working with the population don’t have the resources,” Simpson stressed.
Stef Baral, Associate Director at the Centre for Public Health and Human Rights said there needs to be better accountability as the grant funding process moves from the technical review to the negotiation phase and beyond.
“During the negotiation phase MSM programming is the very first thing to go even when it’s been assigned a budget,” Baral said. “There needs to be better accountability. Making the promise is not enough anymore. People want performance and results and we are not seeing that.”
Simpson called for the increased involvement of regional MSM in designing programmes from the ground up and for leadership to ensure that money earmarked for the community gets there.
“There is always reference to MSM to get funding but at the country coordinating level there is no leadership to ensure that the systems are held accountable in terms of what they are supposed to provide,” he ended.
Caption: Joel Simpson, report consultant and co-chairperson of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) in Guyana