OUT LGBT Well-being and the Elton John AIDS Foundation Launch Groundbreaking Project to Improve Health Outcomes of MSM Who Engage in Chemsex in Soweto

Johannesburg (24 April 2024) – OUT LGBT Well-being (OUT) has partnered with the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) to launch an innovative pilot project aimed at improving the well-being of men who have sex with men (MSM) engaging in chemsex.

Chemsex, the practice of using drugs to enhance sexual experiences, poses a considerable health risk among MSM, who are already at an elevated risk of HIV. OUT, an organisation offering sexual health services to MSM, found an HIV prevalence of 20% among 1,662 Johannesburg MSM who engage in chemsex tested over a 12 month period. In addition to an increased risk of HIV infection, OUT also found that MSM who engage in chemsex are more difficult to retain in HIV treatment programmes.

The 16-month pilot project, funded by EJAF, will focus on MSM who engage in chemsex in Soweto and will provide a comprehensive package of care tailored to their needs. This programme is groundbreaking in its approach within South Africa, aiming to deliver a holistic model of care that integrates biomedical, behavioural, and structural interventions.

The initiative will enhance the detection of HIV, improve retention of those diagnosed with HIV on antiretroviral therapy (ART), and support their overall health and social outcomes with medical, social and mental health services. OUT will also promote harm reduction practices in the context of chemsex and foster social cohesion within this community.

Additionally, the organisation will work to reduce stigma around MSM who engage in chemsex, provide sensitisation training to service providers and influence policy to recognise and support the needs of this group.

By adopting a non-judgmental, person-centred model, the initiative seeks to address the complex interplay of factors affecting this community, including mental health issues, stigma, and access to health services.

Says Dawie Nel, OUT Executive Director: “MSM who engage in chemsex are marginalised by moralistic and judgmental attitudes, criminalisation, and a general lack of awareness about their needs. They may also struggle with internalised stigma, making it difficult for them to be open about their substance use with health care providers. Our focus is not to judge but to reduce harm, uphold human rights, and ensure that MSM who engage in chemsex have access to compassionate, stigma-free and effective health services.”

The programme’s approach is grounded in evidence-based practices and informed by an understanding of the needs and challenges of MSM who engage in chemsex. The initiative is designed with a long-term vision to create a sustainable model that can be adapted and scaled to other settings.

“By taking a comprehensive and integrated approach to address the multifaceted needs of MSM who engage in chemsex, OUT LGBT Well-being is dedicated to improving health, reducing stigma, and fostering a fairer and more equitable society in South Africa,” concludes Nel.

Says EJAF CEO, Anne Aslett: “We are proud to partner with OUT to support their invaluable efforts to challenge stigma and blame for a very vulnerable community. The Foundation has supported life-saving work for men, women and children in South Africa and is deeply committed to ensuring no one gets left behind in the national HIV response. We firmly believe that this latest investment, to delivering tailored, non-judgemental, life-saving services where they are needed will make significant strides towards fostering optimal health and wellbeing for all in the country.”

About OUT LGBT Well-being

OUT LGBT Well-being is a registered NPO recognised internationally for providing high-quality HIV and other health and empowerment services to gay, bisexual, and MSM communities. Founded in 1994 and one of the longest-running LGBTIQ+ organisations in South Africa, we also advocate for LGBTIQ+ equality and human rights and work to eradicate stigma, discrimination, and hate crimes. www.out.org.za

About the Elton John AIDS Foundation

The Elton John AIDS Foundation was established in 1992 and is one of the leading independent AIDS organisations in the world. The Foundation’s mission is simple: an end to the AIDS epidemic. The Elton John AIDS Foundation is committed to overcome the stigma, discrimination and neglect that keeps us from ending AIDS. With the mobilisation of our network of generous supporters and partners, we fund local experts across four continents to challenge discrimination, prevent infections and provide treatment as well as influencing governments to end AIDS. www.eltonjohnaidsfoundation.org