On the 26th July 2014, the M-Coalition, hosted by the Arab Foundation for Freedom and Equality, was launched at the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia. The M-Coalition, featuring delegates from 5 Arab countries- Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Tunisia – seeks to better facilitate the access that men who have sex with me (MSM) have to HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment. Furthermore, another aspiration of the grouping is to encourage healthcare professionals to treat MSM clients in the same way as all their clientele. The M-Coalition is, furthermore, the only Arab HIV/AIDS organisation specifically dedicated to the needs of MSM, who are between 50 and 130% more likely to have HIV than the general population across the Arab World – according to M-Coalition’s own statistics.
The MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, as compared to Sub-Saharan Africa, is generally considered to have low levels of HIV and AIDS across the populace, with the exceptions of Djibouti, Somalia and South Sudan. However, within the target group, who are also one of the most vulnerable social groups, subject to arrest and legalised torture, the rates are disproportionately high, explaining the need for such a group to come together to help create a better environment for MSM to seek treatment.
Johnny Tohmy, Executive Director of M-Coalition, said “at this key moment where the end of the HIV epidemic is potentially within reach, we have committed to increase our efforts envisioning an Arab world where right to health and all other human rights of MSM are recognized, realized and protected.” (Full article found here)
LebMASH is proud to work with the M-Coalition and would like to congratulate Dr. Omar Harfouche, one of the founders of LebMASH, on his concurrent position on the M-Coalition board. Dr. Harfouche was selected by the members of the M-Coalition to work with them. We believe that the participation of the M-Coalition at the International AIDS Conference is a great step forward, representing the unheard voice of the MENA region within the discussion of LGBT rights and HIV/AIDS rights, both subjects traditionally considered taboo within the Arab World.
Dr. Harfouche explains that “the importance of the M-coalition lies with the exchange of all the experience and expertise of different organizations and different approaches from different countries in the Arab world. While meeting in Tunisia with the rest of the board members, we are able to look at the ways of addressing discrimination against PL-HIV (people living with HIV) and MSM in different countries and try to think of different ways to tackle these issues based on each person’s own experience.
“M-coalition’s strength also lies in being a new reference point for MSM living with HIV in the region and on prevention strategies for this key population. This population has been neglected by many prevention campaigns and this subject wasn’t tackled the way it should have been, knowing that MSM are still one of the most populations at risk in the MENA region.
“Finally, here’s what I think LebMASH can offer to the M-coalition: I will be representing Lebanon in the M-coalition and not only LebMASH but I feel that the medical background that LebMASH has is of great importance to guide other initiatives that would work with health care professionals in the MENA region.”