Transgender Individuals Struggle to Access Health Facilities

Published: August 7, 2014

 In a country where being a transgender is still largely frowned upon, and where there are no laws that protect the rights of gays and lesbians or transgender people, Eiseb has had to fight off a lot of discrimination and endure insults at the hands of conservative health officials. 

While other countries have slowly passed laws that accommodate transgender people, Namibia has not included specialised programmes for transgender people in its strategic health plans.

“Transgender people are not well received in the public health sector. There is still a lot of prejudice going on,” says Eiseb, who was diagnosed with HIV at the age of 30. 

Eiseb’s journey has not been an easy one. Having lost both ‘her’ parents to the same disease and orphaned as a teenager, Eiseb was left with five siblings to take care of while struggling with ‘her’ own identity crisis as a transgender.

It took a lot of courage to step out of the closet because ‘her’ own uncles would give ‘her’ a beating whenever ‘she’ displayed any feminine behaviour in their presence, so much so that ‘she’ was forced to suppress ‘herself’ for years.

The homophobic treatment doesn’t stop in ‘her’ family circles, ‘she’ gets the same look of disgust whenever ‘she’ visits the clinic and other health institutions.

“I was born a woman trapped in a man’s body. This is not my fault and I have the right to access health services just like anyone else” Eiseb says.

But ‘she’ says after contracting the disease, ‘her’ life changed dramatically, and ‘she’ is now fighting for the rights of other transgender people to beat the stigma and discrimination that comes with being born different.

“I want to tell other transgender people out there that they should not be afraid to protect themselves from STDs and HIV, despite the discrimination that they may be facing,” ‘she’ said.

The 31-year-old says had ‘she’ known that ‘her’ partner at the time was HIV-positive, ‘she’ would have been a little more cautious, and believes that other transgender people have the same fear of approaching clinics for condoms because of what people might say. “This places many of them at risk,” ‘she’ said.

Director of Rights not Rescue, Nicodemus Aochamub, who has been very vocal about the rights of the transgender community in Namibia says that Lesbian, Gay Bi-sexual and Transsexual (LGBT) people will continue to be persecuted in Namibia, unless the anti-homosexuality laws are revisited.

He said many of his members shy away from using condoms because they are often discriminated against. “Especially at clinics where they are supposed to feel safe and protected,” he said.

A recent report by the AIDS and Rights Alliance in Southern Africa (Arasa), a 2012 national Global AIDS Response Progress Report (GARPR), revealed that the highest median HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men across regions of the world was reported in Western and Central Africa (19%) and Southern and East Africa (15%).

Arasa says that specific HIV health services for men who have sex with men remain limited and many governments are unwilling to provide HIV-related health interventions, such as prevention programmes, for men who have sex with men, even at times where their national strategic plans (NSPs) on HIV commit to doing so.

Same-sex sexual activity, sex between men or sodomy is criminalised in almost all countries in the region and men who have sex with men remain stigmatised, socially marginalised and vulnerable to violence and abuse in the region.

Although Namibia has not kept stringent grips on the LGBT community, many transgender people find it a challenge accessing health services in the face of homophobia.

A nurse at a Katutura clinic revealed that she often has to refer transgender men to a social worker as they had their own special needs which she was not familiar with. She however said that it was not true that they were discriminating against the group and that they had access to health services just like everyone else.

“We treat many of them with STDs and they often come here for condoms. Many of them have psychological issues which we do not directly know how to handle. In these instances, we refer them to a social worker where they can get the counselling that they need,” she said.

But Outright Namibia’s executive director, Linda Baumann, who called for a policy change, believes that not enough research is being done to address the needs of transgender people in the country.

The organisation has over 50 LGBT members, the majority of whom are transgender people. Baumann believes that the hostile environment puts a lot of pressure on the well-being of transgender people.

“The country still has a long way to go. People are not well educated on how to properly treat the LGBT community. Government must pass laws that will be able to give these people the rights like anybody else,” she said. 

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