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Stigma blocks access to services for MSM and transgender

Stigma within healthcare facilities blocks access to services for MSM and transgender

Shobha Shukla – CNS

(CNS): Stigma within healthcare settings blocks access of men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender populations to existing services to an alarming level. "The Asia Pacific Coalition on Male sexual health (APCOM) has been looking at this issue of stigma within healthcare settings which prevents people from accessing services and in fact kills people if nothing else. So what NFI and APCOM are doing is engaging more with the UN system, WHO, and other stakeholders to improve quality of education for the health sector, to engage in issues around health sector reforms and to improve services at grassroots level" said Shivananda Khan, Chief Executive of Naz Foundation International (NFI) and Co-Chair of Asia Pacific Coalition on Male sexual health (APCOM) at the 10th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (10th ICAAP) in Busan, South Korea.

Mental health issues arise because of significant levels of stigma and discrimination. Depression, harassment, relationship problems, loneliness, and social isolation, are among the few pressing mental health concerns that challenge MSM and transgender populations in particular. HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI) counselling is more concerned with sexual and reproductive health, and doesn't adequately address mental health concerns beyond HIV prevention and to some extent care and support issues.

"It is not just looking at mental health at individual basis but society as a whole. What we are trying to do at NFI and APCOM is to look at how we can address stigma and discrimination through government, legal reforms, social change, as well as provide services at local level for individuals who have family issues to deal with, who have marital issues to deal with, and other issues. Yes there are no properly trained counselors that can address them as mental health issues and that requires education at all levels" said Shivananda Khan, who was conferred upon the Order of British Empire (OBE) by the British Queen in recognition of his contribution to HIV prevention among MSM.

Shivananda points out another major game-changing intervention in reducing stigma within healthcare settings: "Medical curricula need to be reevaluated to address the health needs of all marginalized communities including MSM and transgender. If you look at the treatment of STIs there is no training in the curricula that is appropriate to the needs of MSM and transgender populations. If you look at the mental health curricula there is no training around addressing stigma and discrimination as a key element in addressing mental health problem. There is no education for the families arising from having gay sons and [lesbian] daughters."

"Human beings irrespective of their sexual identities should be treated with dignity. Families, medical fraternity, police, bureaucrats, politicians, it is the whole of society you can engage in improving health responses for MSM and transgender populations" said Shivananda Khan.

Shobha Shukla - CNS


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