Addressing stigma and discrimination and homophobia key to achieving universal access in Latin America
15 March 2011
The Secretary of Health of Mexico, Dr José A. Córdova, called on countries in Latin America to continue efforts to counter stigma, discrimination and homophobia in the region.
Dr Córdova was one of seven Ministers and Vice Ministers of Health among more than 90 delegates contributing to the review of progress made towards achieving universal access in the AIDS response. The consultation, held in Mexico City from 2-3 March 2011, made regional recommendations and developed a roadmap on how to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2015.
“We need to strengthen the human rights approach in our response to AIDS and establish mechanisms to ensure that both public and private services are free of stigma and discrimination or homophobia,” said Dr Córdova.
Persistent homophobia, gender-based violence, persecution and even killings of most-at-risk populations such as men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people were identified as some of the main obstacles to ensuring access to HIV-related services in the region. Strengthening health systems that do not discriminate people living with HIV and key populations at higher risk of infection was seen by participants as a priority to achieve universal access. Improving access to legal services for human rights violations, discrimination and gender-based violence was also highlighted.
We need to strengthen the human rights approach in our response to AIDS and establish mechanisms to ensure that both public and private services are free of stigma and discrimination or homophobia
Secretary of Health of Mexico, Dr José A. Córdova
The AIDS epidemic in the region has remained stable for the last 10 years with an HIV prevalence of 0.5%. Antiretroviral therapy coverage is at 51%, which represents the highest in the world. However, young people, sex workers, MSM, and transgender people still have limited access to sexual and reproductive health programmes that provide information, skills, services and commodities to prevent HIV infection.
“We can only improve HIV prevention for the transgender community in Latin America through the respect for their identity in the health services,” said Marcela Romero from REDTRANSLAC, Argentina.
Participants identified a need to strategically position HIV within broader political agendas—including education, justice, equality, labour, and social development. This, it was felt, would secure political commitment and financial sustainability. According to the participants, investment from different sectors would have a multiplier effect that will contribute not only to achieve universal access goals but support the achievement of the broader Millennium Development Goals.
The need to strengthen relations between governments, civil society organizations and networks of people living with HIV throughout the region was another recommendation from the meeting. It was also proposed to jointly purchase antiretroviral drugs for the region rather than as individual countries to achieve economies of scale and to increase HIV treatment coverage. Additional strategies included enhancing production of locally produced antiretroviral drugs.
“Working together we can ensure a unified regional response to the epidemic and set the path towards sustainability in Latin America,” said UNAIDS Regional Director Dr César Núñez.