“In future, legislation will be enacted, hopefully, to make legal, these entities and behaviours,” he said.
Delivering the main address yesterday at the opening of a two-day Caribbean region High Level Government and Civil Society Meeting at the Normandie Hotel, St Ann’s, Khan urged the meeting to advise ministries of health in what direction to go “without treading on too many corns.”
The meeting was organised by the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) with support from Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS and the Centre De Orientacion e Investigacion Integral.
Legislation for the groups targeted at the meeting, Khan said, “were not really looked at in depth” in TT.
“Things such as these,” he said, “need to be done carefully, and with the consent of a large group of the population.”
The HIV-vulnerable groups targeted, Khan said, may be considered illegal by Trinidad and Tobago legislation, but they were part of society.
Even tough legislation does not provide for their activities, Khan said all TT governments have attacked stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS by providing free anti-retroviral drugs to all citizens of TT, to control the virus.
“We do treat a lot of sex workers, men who have sex with men, and teenaged addicts who are in the vulnerable groups. However, these groups tend to go underground,” he said, because their activities were considered illegal. They can cause the further spread of HIV, if not managed properly, he said.
Though there has been a slight increase in infections locally over the last year, Khan said that Tobago has gone to zero in mother-to-child transmission, and Trinidad was also trending in the same direction.
The Ministry of Health, he said, was working to coordinate and bring under one umbrella all government units dealing with HIV to keep the problem under control. While the ministry was doing this, he said that it was also in the process of decentralising the treatment of HIV to community health facilities, in a bid to destigmatise persons living with HIV-AIDS.
With just one unit treating HIV-AIDS, he said persons going to that one facility would be subjected to more stigma and discrimination.
“Trinidad and Tobago is on its way to ending stigma and discrimination in this regard,” he said.
Noting that stigma and discrimination was nothing new, he said in 1995 Government passed equal opportunity legislation that enabled an Equal Opportunities Commission.
In introductory remarks CVC Co-Chair, Dona de Costa Martinez, said the Caribbean HIV response has achieved many successes and could be the first region to eliminate mother-to-child HIV transmission. However, she noted that exclusion due to the lack of anti-discrimination laws and laws that criminalise sex work and sexual relations continue to contribute to a culture of stigma and discrimination that has been hard to combat.
Punitive legal frameworks, she said treat drug use and sex work as law enforcement issues rather than as a public health concern which undermine efforts to reduce HIV.
Unless decision makers tackle more effectively the issue of stigma, discrimination, restrictions on human right and fundamental freedoms related to HIV, she said, the countdown to zero will not be achieved by the 2025 deadline.