Stigma and discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS is still an issue in this country and certain laws are contributing to the problem.
So said co-chair of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) Dona Da Costa Martinez as she delivered an address at the opening ceremony of a two-day HIV/AIDS symposium at The Normandie, St Ann’s, on Wednesday.
Martinez said that laws criminalising same-sex relations and sex work have added to the culture of stigma and discrimination that has been difficult to combat.
Treating these acts as law enforcement issues rather than public health concerns undermines efforts to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, she said.
Martinez added that various systems in place to protect the general public were also contributing to the problem.
“Some well-intentioned practices such as mandatory testing, criminalisation of wilful transmission of HIV, or restriction of access to health services to vulnerable groups have contributed to HIV stigma and discrimination and impeded the effectiveness of the HIV response in many countries. These measures were put in place with the intention to protect the general public from the behaviour of high-risk populations but it has entrenched stigmatisation and established a basis for discrimination and other forms of human rights violations.”
Martinez said more focus should be placed on targeting the most at-risk groups including sex workers, men who have sex with men, socially excluded youth and drug users.
“Many countries have often chosen to focus on targeting the general population instead of these groups,” she said. “In those countries, less than four per cent of the funding committed to HIV/AIDS was actually spent on addressing the needs of the people most vulnerable to HIV.”
Speaking at the event, Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan said plans were under way to decentralise HIV clinics to address the issue of stigma and discrimination.
“There are clinics that are specific to the treatment of HIV. If anybody goes to that clinic they are immediately stigmatised. We are in the process of decentralising these clinics into the different health centres.”
Khan said the recommendations of the symposium would assist the Ministry of Health in enacting legislation to combat stigma and discrimination.