Men and boys: The missing link to ending AIDS by 2030

The universal goal to end AIDS by 2030 will amount to nothing but a dream unless men and boys are meaningfully engaged as partners in the global response to AIDS. Historically, efforts to address HIV have largely focused on women and girls, but evidence suggests that men and women need to be equally targeted – as both are at risk of HIV. Over the years, women and girls have been shown to be at risk of HIV infection, with girls between the ages of 15 – 24 being most vulnerable. Who puts these women and girls at risk of infection? It’s obviously men and boys. Yet, the majority of men and boys are oblivious to their risk. Many men do not know their HIV status, they do not test for HIV, if infected they do not access treatment, when they eventually test for HIV it is often too late and they are most likely to die of AIDS-related complications compared to their female counterparts. Thus, while the face of AIDS is that of a woman, AIDS mortality has the face of a man. This is evidence that was presented at the 21st International AIDS Conference which has been held in Durban, South Africa, from Monday, 18th – 22nd July 2016.

However, existing HIV programming rarely considers males – and health services rarely target men and boys. Furthermore, gender norms and patriarchal practices continue to maintain and feed the epidemic. For example, women and girls still don’t have the power to make decisions about sexual practices in their relationships with men.

Why are men and boys at risk? Evidence suggests that the vulnerability of men and boys is exacerbated by key drivers such as poor medical male circumcision (48%), low and inconsistent condom use (54%), knowledge of HIV status (62.3% – according to Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey of 2014) and gender-based violence.

Kwakha Indvodza Executive Director, Tom Churchyard, says “if this situation is left unattended and gender-blind programming continues as it currently does, it will seriously affect both men and women negatively, and it will reverse the gains made in HIV prevention, thus eroding investments of the past 25 years.”

“Efforts to curb HIV are thwarted by limited efforts to meaningfully engage men and boys to change their health-seeking behaviours. There must be concerted efforts to develop campaigns that are specifically tailored to address the health needs of men and boys”, adds Mzingaye Sibanda, Programmes Manager for Kwakha Indvodza.

Kwakha Indvodza is a member of MenEngage Swaziland, which works with a network of civil society organisations to engage men and boys for gender transformation.