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Call for more inclusive health care for MSM

Posted on April 29, 2014 at 12:20 AM

The development of a health care system that addresses more closely the needs of men who have sex with men (MSM) in Jamaica is crucial if the island is to stem the tide of HIVAIDS locally.

This was the word from stakeholders at a consultation involving health care providers from the North East Regional Health Authority (NERA), MSM and advocacy groups, held in Ocho Rios, St Ann on Monday, April 28, 2014. 

What that system looks like, it emerged from the discussions, is one characterised by:

• confidentiality and tighter controls to guard against the unsanctioned disclosure of an individual’s HIV status;

• the provision of information particularly relevant to MSM, such as the risk of HIV through anal sex and factors that put them at higher risk of HIV infection;

• the provision of care to MSM who are homeless and who, therefore, cannot always be “appropriately attired” to visit health care facilities across the island, in line with prescribed dress codes at such entities;

• a recognition that the physical treatment of MSM may have to involve the treatment of the whole person; and

• allowances for the provision of feedback from MSM in order to improve service offerings to them.

However, to realise this more inclusive health care system, MSM, must themselves do their part — beyond leveling criticisms to which health care providers ought to respond. Concerning the issue of men who are denied access to health care due to improper attire — such as men in drag, tattered or otherwise skimpy clothing — stakeholders agreed that while they ought NOT to be denied care, they must make the effort to dress in such a way as to help ensure their access to care.

According to Dr Carla Hoo, Regional Epidemiologist/HIV/STI Coordinator, acting, the rule concerning attired — no sleeveless blouses/shirts, flip-flops, short skirts, etc — exist to reduce the risk of disease transmission and in the best interest of all who visit the island’s health facilities.

MSM were also encouraged to recognise that health care providers are faced with resource constraints such that there will, at times, be deficiencies in the system — despite their best efforts.

At the same time, while it was acknowledged that many MSM are marginalised, it was felt that there was need for at least some of their number to exercise more restraint in their interactions with health workers and other patients they encounter in health facilities.

The public consultation is one of three being held under the Panos Caribbean-implemented ‘Communication Initiative Against Stigma and Discrimination and to Promote MSM Health in Jamaica’.

The project, which has been run for just over three years now, has as its objectives:

• to strengthen the capacities of MSM in Jamaica to advocate and create awareness about the issues affecting MSM; and

• to promote, through the media, tolerance and accountability towards MSM in the response to HIV/AIDS.

The project, implemented with the support of World Learning, is funded through the United States Agency for International Development.

The first consultation was held on April 15 with representatives of the Ministry of Youth and Culture — including Minister Lisa Hanna — in Kingston.

The third is to be held on April 29, also in the capital, and targets faith-based organisations, together with MSM and local advocacy groups.

— Petre Williams-Raynor (28 April 2014)

See related blog at: http://petchary.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/person-to-person-health-care-workers-and-marginalized-jamaicans/

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