PESHAWAR: Various civil society organisations on Friday voiced concern about the increasing incidence of HIV among transgender persons in the province and asked the government to ensure that the community has access to free screening, counselling and treatment for the infection.
The demand was raised during a consultative dialogue of stakeholders, including non-governmental organisations, at the Peshawar Press Club.
Noted among speakers in the event organised by the NGO Blue Veins were president of the TransAction Alliance Farzana Jan, programme coordinator of Blue Veins Qamar Naseem, religious leader Mufti Jamil, Youth Gleam Organisation’s Gul Haider, coordinator of Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network Taimur Kamal, project director on provincial HIV/AIDS programme Dr Saleem and Radesh Singh Tony.
They said the transgender persons in the province experienced high levels of stigma, discrimination, gender-based violence and abuse, marginalisation and social exclusion and thus, limiting their access to services, damaging their health and welfare and putting them at a higher risk of HIV.
The speakers appreciated the provincial government’s announcement to establish centres for HIV patients in Malakand, Mardan, Abbottabad, Kohat, Bannu, DI Khan and Peshawar and set up a second family care centre for HIV/Aids patients at the Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar, saying the facilities will make HIV screening , treatment and counseling easier for transgender persons.
They said the National AIDS Control Programme statistics alarmingly showed that HIV was prevalent among 27.2 percent of the people injecting drugs and 5.2 percent among transgender sex workers.
Mr Naseem said the transgender community was particularly vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDs and therefore, the government should take proper measures for their protection.
He demanded access to free HIV screening, counseling and medication services.
The programme coordinator of Blue Veins welcomed a resolution moved in the provincial assembly calling HIV as major health concern among transgender community in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
He said the risk was related primarily to sexual behaviours, especially unprotected anal sex with an HIV positive partner but also, other structural factors made the community vulnerable to the disease but no major steps had been taken to address the situation.
Mr Naseem urged the government to ensure provision of health services to transgender community and said the community members should be properly consulted on the provincial transgender protection policy as a key stakeholder.
Ms Farzana Jan regretted that lack of awareness had kept the transgender community away from HIV testing and treatment, while Mr Mufti Jamil said the transgender persons faced discrimination in education, health and other sectors of economy.
Mr Taimur said the HIV-related stigma and trans-phobia created barriers for transgender persons to have access to screening and treatment.
He called for better targeted prevention approaches in combination with increased welfare and employment opportunities to address the needs of transgender persons.