Challenges in providing counselling to MSM in highly stigmatized contexts: results of a qualitative study from Kenya
The role of men who have sex with men (MSM) in the African HIV epidemic is gaining recognition yet capacity to address the HIV prevention needs of this group is limited. HIV testing and counselling is not only a critical entry point for biomedical HIV prevention interventions, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis, rectal microbicides and early treatment initiation, but is also an opportunity for focused risk reduction counselling that can support individuals living in difficult circumstances. For prevention efforts to succeed, however, MSM need to access services and they will only do so if these are non-judgmental, informative, focused on their needs, and of clear benefit. This study aimed to understand Kenyan providers' attitudes towards and experiences with counselling MSM in a research clinic targeting this group for HIV prevention. We used in-depth interviews to explore values, attitudes and cognitive and social constructs of 13 counsellors and 3 clinicians providing services to MSM at this clinic. Service providers felt that despite their growing experience, more targeted training would have been helpful to improve their effectiveness in MSM-specific risk reduction counselling. They wanted greater familiarity with MSM in Kenya to better understand the root causes of MSM risk-taking (e.g., poverty, sex work, substance abuse, misconceptions about transmission, stigma, and sexual desire) and felt frustrated at the perceived intractability of some of their clients' issues. In addition, they identified training needs on how to question men about specific risk behaviours, improved strategies for negotiating risk reduction with counselling clients, and improved support supervision from senior counsellors. This paper describes the themes arising from these interviews and makes practical recommendations on training and support supervision systems for nascent MSM HIV prevention programmes in Africa.