Feature story

El Salvador: Ministerial decree to reduce homophobia in health services

03 April 2009

20090403_Ministro_200 Dr. Guillermo Maza, Minister of Health of El Salvador signing the ministerial decree on 5th March 2009.

The Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance of El Salvador approved, as part of its National Plan on HIV prevention, a set of actions to reduce homophobia and any type of discrimination based on sexual orientation in the health services.

In its 2008 country progress report El Salvador identified human rights violations as a major barrier to an effective response to the AIDS epidemic. The ministerial decree signed on 5th March 2009 by the Minister of Health Dr. Guillermo Maza, guarantees access to health services and respect of human rights to men who have sex with men, transgender, transvestites and lesbians.

The ministerial order states that all public health services such as hospitals, health clinics, etc. and their staff must facilitate, promote and support actions to eradicate discrimination based on sexual orientation. The decree also calls for all health institutions in the country to report back on the actions taken to reduce homophobia and discrimination.

This ministerial decree reflects the fundamental principle of respect for the human rights of all those who suffer from stigma and discrimination and it reaffirms the spirit of the universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support under a human rights frame.

César Antonio Nuñez, UNAIDS Director Regional Support Team for Latin America

“This ministerial decree reflects the fundamental principle of respect for the human rights of all those who suffer from stigma and discrimination and it reaffirms the spirit of the universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support under a human rights frame,” said César Antonio Nuñez UNAIDS Director Regional Support Team for Latin America.

The decree also encourages multilateral cooperation agencies and International financing institutions to provide funds and technical support directed to effectively respond against discrimination.

According to UNAIDS, El Salvador has an HIV prevalence rate of 17.8% amongst men who have sex with men (MSM).

Aside from the individual pain homophobic attitudes inflict, the continuing stigma attached to same-sex relations is complicating the task of slowing the spread of HIV in the Latin America region in general where sex between men is a leading mode of HIV transmission according to national reports. Stigma and homophobia increase the isolation of gays, bisexuals and transgender people making them more reluctant to come forward, get advice and access HIV services such as treatment, testing and counseling.

By signing the ministerial decree, El Salvador builds on the country’s commitment to seriously expand efforts to address stigma and discrimination in health settings which will facilitate the intake of HIV services by one of the key populations at higher risk of HIV infection