Minister of Health in Jamaica, Dr Christopher Tufton, has restated that there will be no discrimination whatsoever against minority groups by the public health sector.
The minister said that the health of all Jamaicans was of utmost importance despite of one’s race, religion or sexual preference, members of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, included.
The goal of public health according to the minister, is to promote a friendly and safe public health delivery system, that will assist every citizen to access health information and treatment.
Tufton called for a more open dialogue concerning risky sexual practices that have seen an increase in HIV and other sexually transmitted infection rates.
The mister said that his ministry is going to take care of health-care needs of all Jamaicans and will not condone stigma and discrimination.
HIV Stigma and Discrimination Higher among LGBT Community
A study conducted in 2016 revealed that there are about 30,000 people living with HIV in Jamaica but, a good number of the (15%) are not aware of their HIV status due to lack of regular HIV testing.
There is a much higher HIV preference among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Jamaica compared to the general population. Only 67% of MSM use condoms for protection. Though still inadequate, condom use among MSM is higher than than that of the general population that stands at 43%.
Jamaica has in general, established a successful response to the HIV epidemic over the last two decades that has seen HIV prevalence among sex workers, people visiting STI clinics and antenatal clinic patients reduce significantly.
In fact, Jamaica has managed to reduce new HIV infections by over 25% in the last 10 years. However, in general, HIV rates in Jamaica have been going up recently.
High rates of HIV infections among MSM are a huge contributing factor to the rising HIV epidemic in Jamaica. Health experts feel that there’s need for more effective ways to reduce the high HIV prevalence among MSM.
A few suggested ways include measures to reduce their social vulnerability, eradicating stigma and discrimination, empowering them to practice safe sex and access to HIV PEP and PrEP, popular drugs working wonders among high risk populations.
High stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS and especially the LGBT community, has resulted in low levels of HIV testing, treatment and most importantly increased reluctance of HIV positive people to reveal their status to sexual partners.
National Public Health Discussion
Tufton has called for increased national public health discussions regarding high risk sexual practices including, but not limited to the LGBT relationships.
He asked any person who experiences stigma and discrimination in any health care institution to seek redress from the ministry’s Standards and Regulations Division which upholds a strong confidential mechanism.
The ministry introduced the public health workers training programme in 2013 in a bid to improve the capacity of Jamaica’s health care workers to provide better services to the LGBT community and other HIV positive people who seek public health facilities.
The programme is run in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the National Family Planning Board and has so far seen 290 healthcare workers go through the programme.