November 19 is International Men’s Day.
Every day, the first thing I see when I walk in the office is a picture of a young dad tenderly holding his little daughter in southern Africa. She is sick and they are on their way to clinic. With her head safely snuggled on his shoulder, the solace in her soft brown eyes and round face says, “Thank you Daddy. Thank you for being here for me.” His face, an expression of both love and deep concern, says in return, “I will always be here for you.”
He is a man for others. Although I never met him, he is a daily inspiration to me. He is like so many men (and women) I have met along our global journey to end AIDS. Men who give so much of themselves to take care of sons, daughters, partners, spouses, friends, and even strangers. These men “step up,” often facing great risks, to support those who need assistance.
Today, as we celebrate International Men’s Day, we need to “step up” for every man and boy, keeping them safe as they continue the battle against HIV.
This means prioritizing access to HIV prevention services like voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC). Men and boys armed with the evidence and given access to preventive services will better protect themselves, their loved ones, and their communities. Millions of men and boys in east and southern Africa are already taking the lead through the vigorous uptake of VMMC services.
This means scaling up evidence-based structural and behavioral interventions to remove barriers to HIV services. For instance, programs that encourage men and boys to seek life-saving health services can counteract the negative influence of certain gender expectations. In addition, it is important to improve access to services for men who have sex with men by training health care workers and mobilizing communities in high stigma settings.
This means identifying more men and boys who are HIV-positive and enrolling them in quality HIV care and treatment services. We know antiretroviral treatment can give men and boys with HIV the opportunity to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives. Furthermore, men and boys on treatment can successfully suppress HIV and are less likely to transmit the virus to others.
This means continuing the search for a safe and effective HIV vaccine and possibly even a cure.
On this International Men’s Day, let’s continue our work to keep men and boys safe from HIV. Let’s step up like that young dad in southern Africa and keep our promise to always be there for them in our fight against HIV.