Author: Denis LeBlanc with Sylvestre Quam-Dessou
Editor: Colin Stewart
In the Togolese Republic in West Africa, HIV prevention is beyond the reach of thousands of gay people and MSM (men who have sex with men).
The reason: a severe shortage of condoms and lube.
“Men’s”, a community association for LGBT people, is seeking a solution to this problem.
At a meeting on June 7 at the AHOEFA center in Lome, Togo, peer educators met to discuss the fight against HIV/AIDS. They “strongly deplored the inaccessibility of condoms and lubricants to the point of questioning the usefulness of the center,” said Sylvestre Quam-Dessou, the secretary of the association.
Indeed, “Men’s” is the only group to distribute free condoms and gels to gay and MSM in Lomé, the capital of Togo. This distribution is made in very limited quantities at the center (one condom per person per visit) when the quality of the condoms is not at issue. The center needs condoms and lubricants for the 28,000 gay and MSM people registered at the center and for distribution during many other activities for gays and MSM.
“This shortage exposes more (gay and) MSM to risky practices, and subject to infections by STI’s and HIV.”
The group is appealing for help in obtaining 8,000,000 CFA francs (US $ 16,513) for the purchase of condoms and lubricants for its clients. These would be distributed free at the center and at events, educational talks, and other activities. Obtaining HIV prevention materials hasn’t always been such a problem. The annual report of “Men’s” for 2012 stated that the year “was characterized by a drastic decline; if not the absolute evaporation of funding that we were receiving from granting agencies such as the PSI (Population Services International).”
“The center should not only be a workplace for associations but also a place that offers the free distribution of lube and condoms to the community. The distribution of condoms and lube should not only be done only during an activity at the center where the beneficiaries have to participate in an activity before receiving any free condoms and lube.
“In order to prevent new infections, [peer educators] asked us to negotiate … so that all (gay and) MSM who want to may have easy access to the gel and condoms. You are aware that beyond the MSM participating our activities, a considerable number of MSM prefer not to show up at public events or even make themselves known to other MSM due to stigma in society, and the fear of being discovered … This group of MSM cannot remain on the sidelines.
“Please help us find a solution to make lube and condoms available … for the health and welfare of the community.”
The Global Fund to Fight against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (the Global Fund) and its agents normally fund prevention efforts targeting key groups such as MSM in poor countries like Togo. The Global Fund’s website confirms that it has a contract with Population Services International-Togo (PSI) for a grant (TGO-809-G09-H) for the period from December 2009, through June 30, 2015.
The Fund’s website confirms that PSI is supposed to distribute condoms and lubricants free of charge as part of its anti-HIV work among gay men and MSM in Togo.
But the group, PSI, has spent only US $8.4 million cumulatively while its cumulative budget including the current year, 2014, is US $ 12 million. Even if these figures are for all programs, PSI should be able to designate a good portion for prevention services for MSM, which include condoms and lubricants. It seems to have more than US $4 million in the bank for the balance of this year.
When the Fund recently assessed PSI’s performance, it gave the organization its lowest performance rating: “UNACCEPTABLE.”
On its website for PSI-Togo, the organization complains about the limited support of donors for some health services, but not with regard to the fight against HIV.
Nevertheless, Quam-Dessou said, “I also want to congratulate PSI, which is doing its best with the counselling needs of MSM.”
PSI-Togo has yet to respond to a request for more information about its actions and inaction in Togo.
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