Health Facilities Must Be Accessible to All – Dr. Skyers
The Ministry of Health is reiterating its commitment to ensuring that all its health facilities are customer-friendly and accessible to every Jamaican.
Senior Medical Officer in the Ministry’s HIV/STI/TB Unit, Dr. Nicola Skyers, stressed that all Jamaicans should be able to utilise healthcare services without discrimination.
“It is not enough to provide facilities for persons to access treatment, but it is equally important to make the facilities accessible to all regardless of who they are,” she said, while addressing a Symposium on HIV-related Legislation and Human Rights, organised by Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston on Tuesday (July 10).
Dr. Skyers also emphasised the importance of ensuring that those who work in these facilities offer the same quality services to all Jamaicans.
“The Ministry remains committed to addressing any incident that demonstrates treatment that is below the standards that we have set,” she said.
She noted that the symposium on destigmatising HIV and AIDS through legislative change is an important step in the right direction.
“The Ministry endorses JASL’s efforts in removing stigma, as despite all the work that we have done with regards to stigma and discrimination, there are still groups that are heavily stigmatised and discriminated against in our country today,” she said.
Quoting a study published in the Journal of the International AIDS Society in April 2017, Dr. Skyers pointed out that ‘stigma and discrimination’ was identified as the number-one barrier for young men who have sex with men and transgender women accessing HIV testing in Kingston.
“These are two key populations with the highest HIV prevalence and, as such, it is incumbent on us to ensure that barriers to accessing services are reduced, if not totally eliminated, for them and for other key and vulnerable populations, inclusive of our adolescents,” she said.
Meanwhile, Country Director, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Manoela Manova, praised Jamaica for having legislation in place to safeguard the rights of individuals.
“Jamaica has the Constitution which actually provides all the rights to life, to liberty, to security. It’s the most important document that gives equal rights to every Jamaican,” she said.
She also pointed to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, place of origin, social class, colour and religion; and the National Workplace Policy on HIV/AIDS developed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, which includes specific provisions that ensure workers are not discriminated against based on their HIV status.
Ms. Manova noted that despite these achievements, there is a concern that there is no comprehensive anti-discriminatory law, and that there is no human rights body that persons can access to seek redress for discrimination or human rights abuses.
The Country Director further pointed out that the world has adopted the Global Sustainable Development agenda. One of the goals is the commitment to ending AIDS by 2030 as a public health threat. She noted that in order to achieve this, there has to be a rapid scaling up of HIV prevention, HIV testing and treatment, and committing to zero discrimination.
“These are the three building blocks of what will help us bring the epidemic under control and end it as a public health threat,” she said.
Held under the theme ‘Destigmatising HIV/AIDS through Legislative Change, the symposium involved discussion on the current legislative framework in place to protect and safeguard the human rights of persons infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Among the key legislative issues discussed were criminalisation of HIV transmission and non-disclosure; abortion and HIV/AIDS; gender-based violence; Data Protection Act and HIV: Privacy and confidentiality, disclosure, partner notification; sexual harassment and rape; and adolescent access to contraceptives and sexual and reproductive health services.
The symposium saw multisectoral participation from the Ministry of Health; Office of the Public Defender; international donor organizations UNAIDS, UN, UN Development Programme (UNDP), Global Fund; local and civil society organisations, Equality for All Foundation/J-FLAG, Eve for Life, National Family Planning Board/Sexual Health Authority, Sex Workers Association of Jamaica; and leading human rights activists.