Equal rights - Tufton vows non-discrimination in the treatment of people with HIV
Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton has reiterated that the public health sector will not discriminate against minority groups such as members of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
"The health of all Jamaicans regardless of their race, religion or sexual preference is of utmost importance. We want to foster a safe and friendly public health delivery system, one that Jamaicans will feel comfortable engaging with for both information and treatment," said Tufton, as he reiterated his call for a more open dialogue around risky sexual practices that increase infection rates.
Addressing a reception hosted by the LGBT lobby group J-FLAG and Viiv Healthcare Positive Action Programme for participants in the public health workers training scheme last Wednesday, Tufton said his ministry will cater to the health-care needs of all Jamaicans and does not condone any form of stigma and discrimination in the public health-care system.
Tufton pointed to a 2016 study which estimated that Jamaica has an estimated 30,000 people living with HIV. However, of this figure, only 85 per cent are aware of their status.
The last study among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Jamaica in 2011 showed a much higher prevalence of HIV among this group than the general population.
Tufton noted that the study also showed a condom use rate of 67 per cent among MSM. This is higher than that of the general population, which was put at 43 per cent but still inadequate, given the attendant risks of unprotected anal sex.
He added that the study also found the practice of anal sex and its associated risks was not limited to homosexual men but also bisexual and heterosexual persons.
The study showed 20 per cent HIV prevalence among bisexual or married men who have sex with men.
Based on this finding, Tufton called for a broadened national public health discussion around risks for certain sexual practices including, but not confined to the LGBT relationships.
"The conversation around HIV and STI transmission needs to be widened to include all persons who engage in the practice of unprotected anal sex in order for persons to better understand their risk," said Tufton.
He noted that the ministry's Standards and Regulations Division has a robust confidential mechanism through which people living with HIV, and other persons who experience stigma and discrimination in health-care institutions, can seek redress.
The public health workers training programme began in 2013 and is implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the National Family Planning Board to build the capacity of health-care workers to cater to and better serve gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, transgender persons and people living with HIV who use public health facilities.
To date, more than 290 healthcare workers have been trained under the programme.