Taking on HIV in the Caribbean

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A report by Stefan Newton for  Human Rights First.

Human Rights First recently hosted a roundtable discussion on the human rights of LGBT people and the campaign against HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean. The discussion featured Mr. Dereck Springer, a leader on Caribbean HIV issues who serves as the director of the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP). He gave a broad overview of the mandate of PANCAP and the programs it is engaging in to better the lives of LGBT people in the Caribbean.

PANCAP’s primary mandate is to provide a structured and unified approach to the Caribbean’s response to the HIV epidemic. Springer gave a summary of how that relates to the LGBT community, some of the unique issues it faces, and the ways that PANCAP is addressing these concerns.

PANCAP is very concerned about how laws against same-sex intimacy reinforce stigma and discrimination against LGBT people. In response, PANCAP launched the Justice For All campaign to identify and dismantle structural barriers that deny human rights. This program is designed to promote activities consistent with the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights, and is specifically intended to achieve one of the goals of the United Nations High Level Meeting Political Declaration (2011): to eliminate stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV by 2015 and to uphold the human rights and dignity of all.

Springer highlighted the ongoing dialogue between PANCAP and faith leaders in the Caribbean to promote tolerance and acceptance of the LGBT community. In a series of upcoming meetings, faith leaders and LGBT activists will jointly formulate messages of respect, tolerance, and compassion towards the LGBT population. Faith leaders can then impart these messages to their congregations in a campaign to combat stigma, discrimination, and prejudice.

Youth advocates of PANCAP will engage in a series of meetings on the issue of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a drug which prevents infection from HIV, and comprehensive sexual education. Within the Caribbean, only the Bahamas has been providing access to PrEP as part of its public health policies and campaigns against HIV/AIDS. During the youths’ meetings, the advocates will design a policy and action plan on the role that PrEP and comprehensive sexual education should take in the PANCAP mandate of HIV/AIDS reduction.

Advocates hope that these meetings will encourage the use of PrEP in Caribbean states’ public health policies and programs. Comprehensive sexual education, which is geared towards all sexual orientations and gender identities, has been a contentious issue within the Caribbean. Another aim of these meetings is to find ways to dispel this controversy and stigma.

To provide better healthcare delivery to LGBT individuals and to have better healthcare related outcomes, PANCAP has created an LGBT Manual for Health Care Providers. This manual is designed to encourage health care providers to offer optimal treatment to LGBT individuals, and it has a focus on youth friendly services. Health care providers who use this manual will develop a better awareness of the health care needs and sensitivities of the LGBT population and will be better equipped to deliver high quality health care to them.

Human Rights First welcomes and looks forward to continued work with PANCAP.

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