January 31, 2012
The first meeting of Project ARM (Africa for Rectal Microbicides) was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in December. The two-day ICASA satellite meeting was initiated by IRMA (International Rectal Microbicide Advocates) and organized in partnership with AVAC. Forty delegates, including gay advocates from throughout Africa, met to chart a rectal microbicide advocacy and research agenda for Africa. Participants agreed that expanded research on rectal microbicides, anal sex behaviors and health should be prioritized for transgender women, gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) and heterosexual populations in Africa. They also discussed the need for expanded communication and education efforts to raise awareness of issues and developments related to rectal microbicide research and anal health. Rectal microbicides could play a key role in HIV prevention for gay men, transgender women and other MSM. But these are still experimental products, and there are immediate sexual health needs that could be addressed through responsive rights-based programming. One basic need is lubricants, or “lube” that can be used with condoms as part of safer anal sex. The Project ARM participants decided to create the Global Lube Access Mobilization (GLAM) campaign to support increased access and availability of condom-compatible lubes throughout Africa, employing the tagline “And Lube!”. The meeting provided a safe space for gay and other men who have sex with men (MSM) to publically articulate their issues and concerns. It is critical that such spaces flourish throughout the world. Unfortunately, another pre-ICASA conference meeting, Claim, Scale-up and Sustain, organized by AMSHeR (African Men for Sexual Health and Rights) to draw attention to MSM/LGBT and HIV-related issues in Africa, was shut down by local religious leaders. IRMA will release the Project ARM strategy report at the 2012 International Microbicides Conference in April.