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Reposted July 22nd, 2014

Written by: Sean Macleish 

      I was astonished to read recently
that the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph
Gonsalves is warning against mixing the fight against HIV and gay
rights. He was quoted as saying, “I don’t accept the thesis that to make
further advances for HIV and AIDS, that we need to do the
decriminalization of homosexual activity among men in private..”. 

      A
report in the Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals
concluded from available data that “most global cases of HIV are not due
to homosexual transmission” but harassment, silence, intimidation and
homophobic laws are a major hindrance on the efficacy of HIV outreach
and prevention. It compromises the fight against HIV and AIDS.The Prime
Minister is misinformed and bigotry is the virus’ best friend. Meanwhile
in St. Vincent and the Grenadines this is the data we have from the
UNAIDS Youth Data Sheet 2013. In 2005 only 25% of the 15-24 age group
had ever received an HIV test, while only 9% of those who were tested in
the last twelve months knew their result.Twenty four percent of all HIV
cases at the end of 2011 were persons less than 24 years old. In 2010
to 2011 there was a 7% increase in the testing levels in the under 24
population.  

       The
Caribbean is second in the world to Sub-Saharan Africa in the rate of
HIV infection. The primary mode of transmission in the region is
heterosexual intercourse with high risk groups to include men who have
sex with men (MSM) and there is intersection between the two. Public
health academia has known for decades that to effectively curb the
global crisis of HIV/AIDS we have to remove institutionalized
oppression that re-enforces homophobia. It is not a panacea but it is a
major part of the solution. Countries that criminalize homosexuality
marginalize MSM which pushes them underground and helps to fuel the HIV
epidemic. Treating people with dignity and respect facilitates effective
HIV education and prevention. It reduces the discrimination many
Caribbean Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender experience when
accessing health services. Studies and the resulting data have
consistently demonstrated that homophobia contributes to higher HIV
infection rates and that internalized homophobia also increases your
risk of HIV infection. People who place a high discount rate on their
lives tend to participate in higher risk behaviours. The
decriminalization of homosexuality to reduce the global crisis of
HIV/AIDS is a policy endorsed by the United Nations, World Health
Organization, Pan American Health Organization, and many
non-governmental organizations. This is the consensual public health
approach. Twelve of the fifteen CARICOM member states still criminalize
homosexuality as of date.

President Reagan’s legacy on refusing to deal
with HIV/AIDS in the 1980’s allowed the epidemic to flourish with the
loss and debilitation of many lives. In 2011 it was estimated that
230,000 people were living with HIV in the Caribbean. There were 13,000
new infections in 2011 and 10,000 people died from AIDS (UNAIDS).
 
What will be the legacy of our political leaders in the Caribbean?