Sunday, May 18, 2008

Abandon the rhetoric

By Oken Jeet Sandham

The seminar on “Responding to HIV/AIDS – Partnerships with the Media” organized by Center for Advocacy and Research (CFAR), Nagaland State AIDS Control Society (NSACS) and Project ORCHID on April 1 at the Conference Hall of Police HQs has thrown many critical areas that needed to be seriously looked into. It is a fact that many used to talk about the importance of the media for dissemination of news of the dreaded HIV/AIDS epidemic. And this importance has been discussed in almost all the HIV/AIDS-related Seminars held in the State. In such occasions the media persons too have been invited to share their views and opinions as to how they could play their role. We have NSACS that is mainly controlled by Government Doctors who are normally senior officials in the Medical Directorate. And the maximum fund that has come from the Center and other funding agencies to fight against the dreaded epidemic is channelized through them. Interestingly, a large sum of money has been used for the administrative purposes while leaving a small portion of it to fight against the scourge. Sometimes, many of them did not have methodology as to how they should work with the media persons to achieve their goal. Their presumption is the media persons should chase them for news. There is no doubt that the State media have done enough in making awareness of the dreaded HIV/AIDS over the years. But there is still gap between the media persons and the persons who directly got involved in working for the HIV/AIDS.
This issue was widely discussed during the seminar and agreed to field the gap. Many media persons too highlighted about the bogus NGOs and also about the vague areas of fund utilization, in spite of getting huge amount of fund from the Center and other agencies. Another very interesting area that had not been highlighted in the past was about the story of Men having Sex with Men (MSM). This is the first that such matter was openly discussed in the seminar. For quite sometime, the issue remained unattended. Some sections of society continue to deny the existence of homosexual practices or claim that they are a Western construct or import, despite studies providing evidence that men who have sex with men are found in our society. Yet these groups are largely invisible in many places. In some regions of the world, epidemiological information about male-to-male HIV transmission is relatively scarce. This is partly because of the fact that many of the men involved are married to women and are thus regarded as part of the general population, rather than a distinct subpopulation. Crucially, in many part of the world, men who have sex with men have no separate social identity (unlike self-identified ‘gay’ men) and sex between men is not commonly talked about or acknowledged. Nevertheless, much research has been carried out in low-and middle-income countries, and the burden of HIV infection in men who have sex with men has become increasingly clear. The term ‘men who have sex with men’ describes a social and behavioral phenomenon rather than a specific group of people. It includes not only self-identified gay and bisexual men, but also men who engage in male-male sex and self-identity as heterosexual or who do not self-identify at all, as well as transgendered males. Many men who have sex with men do not regard themselves as homosexual, and many men who have sex with men also have sex with women. In a study in Beijing, 28% of the men surveyed reported having sex with both men and women during the previous six months. A large study conducted in Andhra Pradesh, found that 42% of men in the sample who have sex with men are married and that 50% had had sexual relations with a woman within the previous three months. AIDS represents the greatest leadership challenge of our time. Leaders everywhere, including members of State legislators, need to demonstrate that speaking out about AIDS is a point of pride, not a source of shame. But the leadership also means abandoning rhetoric, taking action and taking responsibility for initiating and promoting the rights-based response to the AIDS epidemic needed to achieve universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support for all.

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