‘What good are interventions if we live like we have a gun to our heads?’
At AIDS 2014 Plenary Session, Founder of HIV Advocates Laurindo Garcia reminded us of how far we have to go in stepping up the pace towards ending HIV. Amidst the buzz and excitement around medical and scientific advancements, there is a pressing need for more focus on the social and political dimensions of the epidemic. For it is these dimensions that are often neglected, that provide the basis for fundamental change in laws and policies, and behavior and attitudes. We need to remember that not only are we fighting a HIV epidemic, but an epidemic of hate and intolerance.
Research shows us that violence, discrimination and hate are barriers to effective public health measures. We now know that anti-retroviral treatment can suppress one’s HIV viral load to the point where it can be no longer transmissible. Yet access to these treatment services will be limited as judgment, stigma and discrimination from health professionals, community leaders, family and friends persist. As long as it is illegal to be gay, as it is in 79 countries around the world, or as long as sex work, harm reduction services, and HIV transmission is criminalized, the end of the epidemic is far from sight. As scientists and researchers near closer to developing a vaccine, or even perhaps a cure, and as they develop a wider armory of HIV preventive technologies we need concerted effort towards removing barriers to health services. People will remain in hiding, in the shadows, marginalized, driven away from the very health services that they need and have a right to.
Not only is fear, prejudice and discrimination costing lives, and stifling the AIDS response, but it is also counterproductive for societies and economies. The World Bank estimates that the economic costs of homophobia ranges from 0.1 percent to 1.7% of a country’s GDP. Homophobia leads to a loss of employment, workplace or educational discrimination, poor health and poverty. Fabrice Houdart, president of World Bank GLOBE, an LGBT resource group within the organization called discrimination a “significant, self-inflicted economic wound.”
Perhaps then the proverbial gun to our heads is homophobia, hate, intolerance and fear. Garcia unveiled his New HIV Research Agenda: an Anti-Hate Pill, an Anti-Violence Condom, and an Intolerance Vaccine. Perhaps now is a potent time to ask ourselves what homophobia, hate and intolerance costs? What does it cost to individuals, to community and public health, and to our societies and global community?
What action can be taken? Garcia presented four antidotes. Protect people form harm. Provide access to treatment. Make our spaces more inclusive. Appeal for more empathy.
What will you do to #StopHomophobia #StopTransphobia #StopHateViolence #StopBullying #HelpEndHIV
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