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SASOD says legislative reform needed to help vulnerable communities fight HIV/AIDS

SASOD’S Managing Director Joel Simpson has identified gaps in legislation limiting LGBT+ persons’ access or utilisation of HIV services.

Last week a historic meeting was held for the establishment of Guyana’s first ever National Multi-stakeholder group on HIV-related stigma and discrimination.

This event focused on HIV as a social issue and achieving the 10-10-10 targets by fighting social barriers, such as stigma, which limits access to healthcare by vulnerable groups.

The 10-10-10 targets, call on countries to repeal punitive laws/policies that target key populations and to implement supportive laws/policies that combat stigma, discrimination, and gender-based violence as it relates to HIV.

For instance, in Guyana persons who wish to become members of the police force are now allowed to do so if they test positive.

As work continues toward this between the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) and the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS) in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, SASOD’S Managing Director Joel Simpson notes that lack of legislative reform continues to limit progress on these issues.

“What are some of the other barriers that still exist in the laws to stigma and discrimination, particularly against key populations. For men who have sex with men in particular, we still unfortunately have laws which criminalise gross indecency in section 3.51 in the criminal law offences act.”

Simpson acknowledges that certain societal stigmas still exist from the time when HIV first appeared in Guyana decades ago when there was a strong public perception that only men who have sex with men were susceptible to the virus.

Key findings globally show that the AIDS response was less successful in countries with laws that criminalise same-sex sex, sex work, and drug use.

Simpson further stated that offences surrounding sex work also limit sex workers, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, from being open about what they do out of fear of being arrested.

These legislations further influence societal discrimination against LGBT+ persons, which will make persons in that high risk group more fearful to come forward to get tested. This leads to less persons knowing their status and thereby unable to access treatment. It also means that more persons are diagnosed later in life when treatment is less effective.

Simpson noted even laws and policies relating to the health sector should be revised, while calling for LGBT+ inclusive education in medical schools.

“It states in section 7 that every health professional shall observe the principles of respecting the dignity, rights and choices of the patient and among other things delivering healthcare without discrimination on the grounds of sex, age, race, ethnic origin, culture, spiritual and religious beliefs, lifestyle, or any other irrelevant consideration. So we see we need even with some of these regulations we need some updating to the language. We don’t have sexual orientation or gender identity covered but I really don’t think it could be referring to people’s sexual identity.”

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