July 21, 2016
Written by Antigone Barton
This post originally appeared on the Science Speaks blog.
The following is a guest post from Ashley Gibbs and David Mbote who serve on Health Policy Plus (HP+), a USAID- and PEPFAR-funded project.
To reach the ambitious targets of the global HIV response, including universal treatment and viral suppression, we must first reach all populations with lifesaving HIV services. Unfortunately, HIV programming for gay and bisexual people, other men who have sex with men, and transgender individuals—among the populations most at-risk for HIV—are often undermined by stigma and discrimination. Homophobic and transphobic attitudes, which may provide justification for criminalization in some countries, are particularly damaging when held by policymakers, HIV program staff, and health service providers—the people responsible for creating and implementing HIV programming.
Significant evidence demonstrates that stigma against men who have sex with men, transgender women, and other gender and sexual minorities contributes to HIV epidemics. However, these populations are often not meaningfully included in national HIV responses and global policy dialogues. At the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS in June 2016, a number of countries—some with large HIV epidemics — blocked the participation of 22 civil society groups that represent key populations and promote the human rights of gender and sexual minorities. The resulting Political Declaration therefore inadequately addresses the needs of these populations. The President of the International AIDS Society, Chris Beyrer, has called it “a setback for our global efforts to end AIDS.”
Within the USAID- and PEPFAR-funded Health Policy Plus project, we are fortunate to work toward mainstreaming expertise on gender and sexual diversity in the global HIV response. This builds on progress made under a predecessor project, the USAID- and PEPFAR-funded Health Policy Project (HPP). In coordination with a U.S. Government interagency team, HPP designed the Gender and Sexual Diversity (GSD) Training, which has helped PEPFAR staff and partners better understand and address the needs of gender and sexual minorities in the context of HIV programming around the globe.