Anova Health Institute’s Health4Men project has extended their use of eHealth technology to enable men who have sex with men (MSM) to use their cell phones to identify and locate their nearest competent clinic through the site by simply entering either their street address, village or town on their phone.

Since 2011, the project has been promoting access to competent health services for MSM throughout South Africa by using mHealth technology as a platform to provide MSM-specific information on HIV prevention and treatment, other sexually transmitted infections and substance abuse, and offers MSM the opportunity to pose anonymous questions to Health4Men’s team of doctors and to view responses on their cell phones.

In order to promote awareness of this service Health4Men has partnered with the popular gay website, MambaOnline to feature the search facility on their website.

CEO of the Anova Health Institute, Professor James McIntyre, reinforced the need for innovative responses to the health needs of MSM: “Many of these men do not identify as being either gay or bisexual and therefore don’t access health-related messaging in the gay media. MSM who identify as heterosexual are a particularly challenging grouping to reach and we are increasingly turning to discreet platforms such as cell phones, to provide access to relevant information. While we have developed significant capacity within the public health sector to work with MSM, this latest development will stimulate demand for and ensure access to these services.”

Sir Elton John and American Secretary of State, John Kerry, recently announced the collaboration between the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and a $7 million grant to support initiatives focusing on MSM in South Africa.

Sir Elton John said, “As one of millions who have heard the Obama administration’s voice loud and clear on human rights and sexuality, I am enormously proud that my Foundation is now working with PEPFAR to help realise an AIDS-free future for everyone, regardless of who they love or how they love.”

McIntyre expressed his gratitude to the EJAF and PEPFAR by saying: “MSM remain a neglected key population throughout Africa, including South Africa. This significant funding comes at a time when we are supporting access to competent health services for MSM, free of prejudice, throughout the country in partnership with our Department of Health and the South African National Aids Council (SANAC). It will allow us to extend such access while also implementing a national prevention campaign targeting MSM.”

McIntyre told reporters that the additional funding will augment and significantly extend Anova’s current MSM-targeted initiatives supported by PEPFAR through USAID, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. “We look forward to a coordinated national campaign to address all aspects of HIV among MSM in South Africa, the first such opportunity in Africa, which will include both prevention and treatment initiatives. Our Health4Men project has clearly taken the local lead in the design and implementation of innovative strategies to address the health needs of MSM in South Africa.”

Health4Men is undertaking an intensive programme of sensitising, training and mentoring health workers within the public health sector to render MSM-competent health services without prejudice or stigma. To date, 68 public clinics have been declared MSM-competent across four provinces (Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Western Cape), in both urban and rural settings. To date the programme has trained over 3,000 health workers in South Africa, in addition to clinicians from Zimbabwe, Angola, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, in how to work with MSM.

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