Gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) have been the group most affected by HIV infections acquired within the geographical region of the European Union throughout the history of the HIV epidemic in Europe. This is due to a variety of factors including but not limited to:
- the complex interactions between sexual behaviour
- sexually transmitted infections (STI)
- an increased biological vulnerability for HIV infections
- social stigma associated with homosexuality
- syndemics of mental health problems and drug use among MSM
- structural, psychological and provider-associated barriers experienced by MSM when accessing sexual health services
- a lack of data and research on MSM in many countries
- a lack of funding for MSM targeted HIV and STI prevention and community based HIV testing advances in communication technologies and their impact on partner seeking and sexual behaviour
- and high internal and cross-border mobility.
Subsequently, the gay community in Europe has responded to the HIV epidemic with unprecedented community mobilisation including the creation of a wide variety of local, national and international initiatives and organisations engaging in HIV prevention, counselling and social support, advocacy, community-based research, and information and education of the community.
As part of the European Commission Health Programme 2014-2020, a pan-European project entitled ESTICOM (European Surveys and Training to Improve MSM Community Health) has been funded by the Consumers, Health, Agriculture and Food Executive Agency (CHAFEA) of the European Commission. The CHAFEA Health 2015/38 tender provides an important opportunity to strengthen the community response and raise awareness about the persisting legal, structural, political and social barriers hindering a more effective response to the syndemics of HIV, hepatitis viruses B and C, and other STI among MSM. The CHAFEA Health 2015/38 tender combines three projects in one tender:
- the European MSM Internet Survey (EMIS) in 2017, similar to the EMIS 2010 survey
- the new European Community Health Worker Online Survey (ECHOES) about knowledge, attitudes, practices and training needs of community health workers (CHW) who provide counselling, testing, and psychosocial care and support for MSM in EU countries
- development and pilot testing of a training programme for MSM-focused community health workers intended to be adaptable for all EU countries. The training programme will contribute to improving the quality of prevention, counselling and early diagnosis services HIV, STIs and viral hepatitis among MSM.
For further information, visit the dedicated ESTICOM website.
University of Brighton work package
In this new European project, the University of Brighton is responsible for developing the first ever European online survey of community health workers (CHW) who provide counselling, testing, and psychosocial care and support for MSM across EU countries. Led by Dr Nigel Sherriff with Professor Jorg Huber, Alex Pollard and Dr Carrie Llewellyn, WP6 will perform a number of tasks including (but not limited to):
- a scoping exercise examining any existing surveys (if available) used to address CHWs providing sexual health services for MSM including questionnaires focusing on outreach workers and community based VCT services for HIV/AIDS, STIs, and viral hepatitis
- development of a proposal for a European CHW Consensus questionnaire (D6.1) which will build on existing questionnaires (where available including EMIS) incorporating ECDC/EMCDDA indicators and comparable approaches by WHO and UNAIDS where relevant and/or appropriate
- two rounds of pre-testing of the online survey aligned with WP2 (using demographix.com) in English including observed completion and cognitive debriefing interviews
- creation of a final version of the European CHW Consensus questionnaire for approval by the Contracting Authority
- coordinated (with WP2) online translation via demographix.com into relevant EU/EEA languages.