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Hundreds of activists, health professionals and researchers participated in the Latina Forum on HIV and the Trans Conference between June 30th and July 3rd, two pre-conferences organized by the Fundación Huesped (Host Foundation) within the framework of AIDS2020-Virtual.
By: Michael Diaz
Relevant regional activists and specialists attended the Latina Forum, where they presented the main findings, challenges and projections of the HIV response in Latin America and the Caribbean. The participation in this year was severely affected by the global health crisis caused by the COVID-19, along with the difficulties of many civil society representatives to use electronic platforms. Notwithstanding, this in no way means the quality of presentations. and the excellent discussion around HIV policies (and also against covid-19) in Latin America.
The event, celebrated on June 30th, was opened by Pedro Cahn from the Fundación Huesped (Host Foundation), as well as by Argentina and Brenda E. Crabtree Ramírez from the National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition Salvador Zubirán, Mexico. It should be stressed Mirta Roses participation, former director of the Pan American Health Organization and special envoy from the World Health Organization on COVID19 for Latin America and the Caribbean, who analyzed the situation of COVID19 and its implications on HIV/AIDS response. It must be noted that Latin America and the Caribbean is currently the region with the highest number of new coronavirus infections worldwide.
In this context, the WHO special envoy exposed the complex scenario in the region, emphasizing several socio-demographic factors that have had a negative impact on the approach to the disease. Dr. Roses also stated that the region has been marked by an accelerated aging of the population, weakening of the political systems, low economic growth, high inequality, overcrowding, job insecurity and limited access to basic services, as well as violence, among other factors. ECLAC specialists widely shared this diagnosis and have alerted about these problems in several regional forums.
According to Roses, these structural factors have significant impact key populations, especially women, youth, migrants, indigenous and Afro-descendant people, and the trans community. The pandemic has affected differently on this key population, limiting their capacity response, and increasing their social and health vulnerability, where the infection and death risk is higher in comparation to the rest of the population.
It is important to point out that many of these populations have pre-existing diseases such as co-morbidities, hypertension, diabetes, and a large number are living with HIV/AIDS, and in many of the cases, the health service access is inadequate. In Latin America, “the matrix of social inequality has structural bases, such as belonging to a certain social group, gender, territory or indigenous ancestry (….) this represents serious differences in the exercise of rights and access to health”, sated the specialist, and this situation has been worsened because of the continuous increase in gender violence, the absence of social protection by the state, and the precariousness and informality of these groups.
As said by Dr. Roses, “the impact of the pandemic is very uneven, the quarantine measures and physical distancing to prevent the spread of the virus and save lives, resulted in the loss of employment” consequently in an increase of poverty rates.
In reference to the HIV, Dr, Roses stated that at the continental level “despite the shortage, with some mitigation measures, there were little interruptions on HIV treatments, however, continuity on essential primary health-care services was affected, especially in rural, peri-urban, and indigenous areas due to pre-existing equipment deficit”. Health facilities and services were affected by the quarantines imposed to exposed health care workers.
Simultaneously to the Latina Forum, the 2020 Latin America Trans Conference was held, and also was organized by the Fundación Huesped (Host Foundation), with the participation of multiple stakeholders who discussed issues related to trans people health, social protection, gender identity, and the right to education and work.
During the closing remarks of the Trans Conference, Javier Hourcade analyzed the specific situation experienced by trans people, mentioning that as a result of COVID-19, many people have interrupted their therapies in light of the complexity to obtain circulation permits and the limited internet access; thus, their human rights are being violated in these cases.
Hourcade criticized the strategy of the central governments in the region because the quarantines were designed for the “middle class”, without taking into account the key populations specific needs, particularly the trans community and sex workers, who have no the basics for their day to day subsistence. This situation has shown the “hardest face of the pandemic” and represents the social and labor precariousness faced by thousands of LGTBI people in Latin America and the Caribbean. The renowned activist stated that many trans women (and sex workers) as well as people living with HIV have been receiving support thanks to the work of civil society organizations. In this sense, and linking the response to COVID-19 with HIV, he made a call to strengthen community intervention programs, in terms of access to diagnosis, treatment and PrEP, with the aim of reaching the goals. Finally, he specified that the peer work developed is an innovative and highly effective strategy “to flatten the curve” of new infections in the region.