A new action plan has been launched to support the health and wellbeing of men who have sex with other men.
Public Health England (PHE) has launched the campaign in an attempt to cancel out inequalities affecting gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. The latter group are men who have sex with men on occasion, but who do not identify as gay or bisexual. The health body have adopted the umbrella term ‘MSM’ to refer to this group.
Since its launch, the campaign has sparked mixed emotion within the MSM community, with one writer likening their support plan to a “festering wound” which fails to get to the heart of the problem.
The plan, which is the first of its kind from a national body, aims to tackle serious health issues that directly affect MSM such as being “burdened with ill-health”, including higher risks of HIV infection.
MSM are also twice as likely, according to a series of studies quoted by PHE, to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety, and twice as likely to be dependent on alcohol than the rest of the male population.
Additionally, the group is likely to suffer from higher rates of cardiovascular disease, asthma and diabetes.
But, despite these health concerns, men who have sex with men are less likely to seek help from health and social care services.
The new plan focuses on three interrelated areas including mental health, sexual health and HIV, as well as alcohol, drugs and tobacco abuse.
HIV-positive gay rights activist and author, Philip Christopher Baldwin, tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle that he welcomes PHE’s action plan. He believes it is a “proactive and well-informed attempt by the government to address the needs of the LGBT community”.
He adds: “It’s clearly a greater issue for gay and bisexual men than their straight counterparts and any measure to combat this issue is welcomed.
“It’s important to work towards a society where everyone feels comfortable in who they are, that they feel respected, and that they are confident in accessing health services.”
He continues: “I am co-infected with HIV and Hep C and cannot emphasise enough how important it is that everything is done to support the LGBT community, where there are a large number of people living with HIV and where there continues to be a high infection rate.
“I suffered from a period of anxiety and depression towards the end of 2012, which was partly due to my health deteriorating from HIV. Getting back to a point in my life where I was confident and happy took about a year, although now I feel more empowered than ever.”
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Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at PHE, said that despite improvements in social acceptance of LGBT people, there are still barriers in accessing health services which need to be addressed.
“This structured programme of action will work with and support the public health system, private and third sector organisations to actively respond to the needs of these communities locally,” he added.
But Philosophy student and writer, George Simmonds, says that the move from PHE isn’t enough.
“I fear that allowing the LGBT community a greater medical focus would propagate homophobia, in a similar way that immigrants or the elderly are often falsely construed as a strain on public funds.”
And, he adds, there are other issues that are cause for concern too.
“The lives of those within the LGBT community are more-or-less dictated by the emotional problems they face as a result of segregation, isolation and homophobia.
“Even those who get by without any diagnosed problems are forced to deal with the social and romantic difficulties that have become part and parcel of LGBT relationships.”
He adds that there are reasons why those who identify as MSM are “disproportionately burdened with ill-health” and this boils down to issues in society which urgently require our attention.
“It’s all well and good to slam plasters on wounds. It’ll stop the bleeding – but festering kills you as surely as blood-loss,” he says.
“I suspect this may be a token effort to appease the LGBT community, a treatment rather than a curative. But we need to drive our forces to the heart of the problem.
“Helping people recover is great, but it’d be better if they had nothing to recover from.”