Jamaican Health Minister Says Government Considering Law Against HIV/AIDS Discrimination
Jamaican Health Minister John Junor on Tuesday said the government is considering legislation that would protect HIV-positive people and people with other diseases from discrimination, the Jamaica Observer reports (Davidson, Jamaica Observer, 12/1). Junor said the legislation would seek to protect people who face discrimination at work and in other areas of public life because they are HIV-positive, according to the Associated Press. "But you can't just legislate to erase the stigma," Junor said, adding, "We have to educate people" (Associated Press, 12/1). He said the government would amend the country's Bill of Rights to "broaden the rights of an individual or group" before taking the legislation to Parliament, according to the Observer. "What we want to do is normalize the condition and not single out discrimination against HIV/AIDS when there are other forms of discrimination among other health conditions," Junor said (Jamaica Observer, 12/1).
HRW Report, Letter
The New York-based human rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch last month released a report saying that 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. The 79-page report -- titled "Hated to Death: Homophobia, Violence and Jamaica's HIV/AIDS Epidemic" -- documents widespread police harassment of people in the country suspected of homosexual activity, commercial sex workers and HIV-positive people, according to HRW. The report also says that many HIV-positive people often receive poor or no treatment from public health care workers because of the stigma surrounding the disease (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/18). HRW on Tuesday sent a letter to Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson urging the government "to join the roster of progressive and democratic countries that have extended basic protections to include sexual orientation and have recognized that an effective policy against HIV/AIDS must be predicated not on prejudice but on inclusion" (HRW letter, 11/30). Junor said the HRW report was "unfair," adding that the Ministry of Health has helped mount several campaigns against HIV/AIDS discrimination, the Associated Press reports (Associated Press, 12/1).
Editorials Urge Government to Pass Legislation
Several editorials recently have addressed the HRW report and issue of discrimination against HIV-positive people in Jamaica. Summaries of some of the editorials appear below:
Jamaica Gleaner: "Jamaican leaders must ... come forward to play a more critical role in stemming the tide of the [HIV/AIDS] epidemic locally," a Gleaner editorial says, adding, "They must understand that the longer they wait to show Jamaicans that it is OK to hug someone infected or even to share a meal with someone living with the infection, the greater the losses the country will face." The editorial concludes that "[i]t is time for one brave soul in Parliament or in the business community to publicly step up and show the rest of us that people living with HIV/AIDS deserve to be treated as human beings" (Jamaica Gleaner, 12/1).
Jamaica Observer: While the lack of details or a timetable on possible legislation against HIV/AIDS discrimination by Junor leaves a "question whether this is a matter yet to be thought through," it is an issue that needs to be "addressed with urgency," an Observer editorial says. "If we learn not to discriminate, we may begin to conquer our fears and with it our willingness to stigmatize," the editorial concludes (Jamaica Observer, 12/2).
- New York Times: Although the Jamaican government has begun efforts to make antiretroviral drugs more accessible to people living with HIV/AIDS, "these efforts cannot become fully effective until the government can summon the courage to attack the virulent anti-gay prejudices that are driving this epidemic by making people at risk fearful of seeking treatment," a Times editorial says, adding that the government "needs to work harder" to improve the country's "public health and AIDS education efforts" (New York Times, 12/2).