Discrimination, Violence Against MSM, HIV-Positive People Hurting Jamaican HIV/AIDS Programs, Report Says
Discrimination and violence against men who have sex with men and HIV-positive people in Jamaica has "hampered" the government's ability to fight HIV/AIDS, according to a Human Rights Watch report released Tuesday, the Miami Herald reports. Jamaica's Ministry of Health in June launched a program to distribute antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive people, and the government also is attempting to address homophobia, according to the Herald. However, the country has anti-sodomy laws that some say are "aimed specifically at gays," and government officials have denied reports of attacks on MSM, Rebecca Schleifer, a researcher with Human Rights Watch's HIV/AIDS Program and author of the report, said, the Herald reports (Ottey, Miami Herald, 11/17). The 79-page report, titled "Hated to Death: Homophobia, Violence and Jamaica's HIV/AIDS Epidemic," documents "extensive police persecution of people suspected of homosexual conduct, as well as sex workers and people living with HIV/AIDS," according to an HRW release (HRW release, 11/16). In Montego Bay in June, several witnesses said a man suspected of being gay was stabbed and stoned to death by a mob shortly after police had beat him with batons and "urged onlookers to participate," according to HRW, the Associated Press reports. The report also says many HIV-positive people often receive "poor or no treatment" from public health care workers because of "the stigma surrounding the disease," according to the Associated Press. The report also describes the case of an HIV-positive woman who said her incision from a recent caesarean-section delivery became infected after doctors at a public hospital did not treat her properly because of her HIV-positive status. Such incidents "marginalize" HIV-positive people and discourage others from seeking information about how to protect themselves, "undermining" government efforts to fight HIV/AIDS, the report says, according to the Associated Press (Associated Press, 11/16). An estimated 1.5% of Jamaican adults are HIV-positive (Miami Herald, 11/17).
Schleifer said that "until Jamaica addresses the epidemic of homophobic violence, it will have no hope against the epidemic of HIV/AIDS." She added, "Jamaica's ambitious HIV/AIDS programs are bound to fail unless the government eliminates the discriminatory laws and abusive practices that undermine its prevention and treatment efforts" (HRW release, 11/16). Government officials did not immediately return calls for comment on the report, according to the Associated Press. However, Tourism Minister Aloun N'dombet Assamba, during a recent trip to London, said, "There is no effort to seek out and bring violence to anybody in Jamaica who is gay" (Associated Press, 11/16). Robert Carr, executive director of the not-for-profit group Jamaica AIDS Support, said that Jamaicans either do not know or choose to ignore that the majority of HIV/AIDS cases in the country occur among heterosexuals. "We've had some of our outreach workers accosted by the police," Carr said, adding, "The challenge is really at the level of society" (Miami Herald, 11/17).