The Champions for an AIDS Free Generation have declared that to eradicate AIDS as a public health threat, the world must ‘Leave No One Behind’. The declaration was made at a meeting of Pretoriabased Commonwealth diplomats and civil society experts in Pretoria, South Africa to discuss challenges around the rights and access to services of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex people as well as sex workers, adolescent girls and young women.
His Excellency Festus Mogae, Chairperson of the Champions and former President of Botswana, informed the meeting that to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, no one should be left behind and that “We can only do so by engaging everyone”. He acknowledged the cultural sensitivities of the discussions but told the meeting that, “We cannot afford taboos in this day and age”. Fellow Champion, His Excellency Joaquim Chissano urged governments to decriminalise consensual same-sex activity between adults and stressed that this was crucial to stopping the spread of HIV. Meanwhile, His Excellency Benjamin Mkapa, the former Tanzanian President, called for a greater focus on removing barriers to accessing education on sexual and reproductive issues for young people, especially adolescent girls between the ages 10 to 19 years old.
Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, also attended and supported the call. “Protection of LGBTI persons and ensuring their access to HIV and health services must remain at the heart of our intervention and advocacy. We therefore need to intensify our efforts in addressing stigma and discrimination in health care settings through sensitization of health care personnel.” He also added, “We need a new paradigm shift in addressing gender inequalities, gender based violence and inequalities in access to health services which are fueling the HIV epidemic among adolescent girls and young women”.
The meeting also heard from Mr Danilo Da Silva, Executive Director of Mozambican organisation Lambda. He spoke about the recent progress of Mozambique in reforming its penal code to decriminalise same-sex relations and modernise colonial-era legislation. Discussing the event, Mr Da Silva said, “This begins the debate and the Champions’ leadership will hopefully lead to a more open conversation about inclusion of the most at risk populations such as LGBT people and their access to health services in the African region”.
Justice Oagile Dingake of the High Court of Botswana, Co-Chair of the African Think-Tank on HIV, Health and Social Justice, also praised the dialogue, saying “As sensitive as the subject might be, it is time that we have, in the African continent, a frank and inclusive dialogue regarding LGBTI persons and their rights in accessing health services without discrimination. The fundamental principles of equality and non-discrimination must apply to every citizen”.
Steve Letsike, Executive Director of South African organisation Access Chapter 2 stressed the importance of creating safe spaces for dialogue. She stated that “Taboos create silence and silences create injustice. This leads to gender-based violence and violence to other groups”.