In line with the last Communication on combating HIV/AIDS in the European Union and neighbouring countries (2009-2013) the overall objective of this project is to carry out and promote combined and targeted prevention complemented by a meaningful surveillance among MSM. In other words, the aim is to develop capacity building and know how through both training and on-site coaching under the active supervision and in collaboration with UNAIDS and WHO on: a) prevention needs assessment and prevention actions; b) innovative surveillance methodologies for hard to reach populations like MSM (time location sampling, respondent driven sampling, HIV and STI testing). The project, thanks to the participation of UNAIDS and WHO, will be implemented in both EU and neighbouring countries using the same methodologies (Protocols, UNGASS/ECDC indicators, epidemiological algorithms) and prevention strategies.
The project’s strategic relevance lies in the fact that it addresses the need for an effective response in priority regions such as the mostly affected EU Member States and the most affected neighboring countries. Targeting MSM as one of the most at risk populations with the active involvement and participation of gay communities in all the phases of the project actions, including developing specific culturally sensitive strategies of communication for the prevention of HIV and promotion of VCT among MSM, is in line with the Work Plan 2010 objective. The implementation of UNAIDS and WHO recommendations on second generation surveillance systems combining behavioural-biological data with prevention needs information and a formative action research in view of targeted prevention actions respond to the objective: “Promoting combined and targeted prevention complemented by a meaningful surveillance". Contacts with ECDC has been taken to harmonise the project with ECDC activities.
Formative research will be carried out in order to choose the most fitting method for data collection among MSM according to local contexts and for prevention needs assessment. Data collectors (recruited through gay associations / NGOs) will be trained locally on prevention issues and procedures for data collection. The Time-Location Sampling method (TLS) will be adopted. Alternatively, the Respondent-Driven Sampling (RDS)method will be used in countries where the survey has already been implemented with the TLS during the former EU-funded SIALON project. Data on prevention needs and behaviour will be collected through an anonymous questionnaire, linked to the biological samples (serum/oral fluid). A training programme will be carried out to train lab technicians on testing at country level. An aliquot of HIV positive serum samples will be sent to a specialised laboratory (University Hospital Verona) for the calculation of HIV antibodies’ avidity index and incidence estimation (STARHS). Approvals from all partners‘ Ethics Committees will be obtained.
The project`s results directly feed into practice and create capacity building thanks to training and on-site coaching and participatory, inter-active disseminating methods. In addition the involvement of WHO and UNAIDS brings a substantial added value to the project and is therefore directly and effectively linked to practical use of research results. Finally, the use of outreach strategies and complementary methodologies will maximize the validity and effectiveness of preventive interventions. In conclusion the project will advance harmonisation of surveillance methodologies, generate comparable data on behavioural and epidemiological indicators for MSM communities (ECDC and UNGASS indicators), help to identify unmet prevention needs, inadequacies of prevention policies, and urgent prevention measures and will strengthen a wide network including international (UNAIDS, WHO) and European (ECDC) organizations, National Public Health Institutes and Civil Society (gay NGOs).