How You Say: Public Health or Human Rights?

In the IGLHRC morning session at the Be Heard! MSMGF pre-conference, Chivuli Ukwimi, Program Associate, moderated a panel with advocates Nikki Mawanda, Executive Director of Transgender Intersex and Transsexuals in Uganda,  Dunker Kamba, Centre for the Development of People in Malawi. The session was titled “Understanding and Deploying the Right to Health: A Tool for Achieving LGBT Human Rights”.

Nikki and Danker gave overviews of the situations that had been happening in their respective countries. The information they gave was what had been covered in the media and other outlets, so I won’t go over it all here. (Read more background information about Uganda and Malawi)

Initially the session was supposed to involve group work and brainstorming to develop practical strategies to take back into our communities and organizations. That didn’t happen. The group work was set aside in favor of an open discussion on public health and human rights strategies.

There were lively debates from the participants on the relative benefits of using the public health argument versus the human rights argument for including MSM in HIV AIDS policy and programming. Some say that using the term “vulnerable populations” weakens the LGBTI community and takes emphasis away from fundamental human rights that should be enjoyed by all people.

One participant countered that argument by saying that some African countries he works in, specifically on the issue of MSM and HIV, are at least 20 years away from recognizing LGBTIs as having equal rights and public health and HIV is a way for sexual minorities to access health services that they need.

Though no specific takeaway strategies were formed, a new possibility was presented as a way of balancing health with human rights. Each country could have their own Technical Working Group (TWG) for and by sexual minorities. The TWG would inform HIV AIDS policy and strategy for each of the respective countries.

This way, the community would be involved in writing policy, designing programs and providing critical feedback on how to develop targeted prevention and services for their own communities.

How would this be implemented? I don’t know specifically. But it is a new idea that could be practically implemented that would foster community leadership and development while ensuring that future research and programming for LGBTIs are targeted effectively.

What do you say? Can public health and human rights strategies co-exist? Answer in the comments section below.

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