When it comes to the health of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, the absence of a national standard of care leaves a critical gap for a population already at risk for sexually transmitted diseases and related health disparities.
A blue-ribbon panel of national public health professionals, co-chaired by a University of Mississippi Medical Center professor, is changing that scenario. They’ve created a multi-faceted standard of care for men who have sex with men, or MSM, in their quest to advance effective STD prevention programs and services in every community in the country.
The panel’s just-released report, “MSM Sexual Health Standards of Care,” addresses the sexual health crisis in that community.
“This is the first effort that outlines what should be included in the care of men who have sex with men as part of a standard of care,” said UMMC professor Dr. Leandro Mena, chairman of the Department of Population Health Science at the John D. Bower School of Population Health and an international expert on sexually transmitted diseases.
Mena, an infectious diseases physician who directs UMMC’s Center for HIV/AIDS Research, Education and Policy, co-chairs the 24-member panel. The group includes representatives from entities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the California Department of Public Health and the AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta.
The continuum of care is especially important in Mississippi. Jackson has the fourth-highest rate of HIV diagnosis per 100,000 population among the nation’s metro areas. In 2014, about 40 percent of MSM in the Jackson metro area were infected with HIV, and in 2013, Jackson had the highest HIV incidence among HIV negative MSM in the country.
The panel’s recommendations go beyond federal guidelines and instead incorporate the collective experiences of the panel’s experts in sexual health. Their work took into consideration the social landscape for many MSM that can impact whether or not they walk into a clinic. “There is significant evidence that social factors, such as racism, homophobia, immigration status, unemployment and mass incarceration are associated with poor health outcomes, even when controlling for other factors,” the report says.
Those social determinants collide with gay or bisexual men, “creating barriers to sexual health along the spectrum of health care, including knowledge of the need for access,” the report states.