Across the world, for a variety of cultural, social, political and religious reasons, accessing HIV prevention, care and treatment services is still not as simple as it could and should be. This is particularly true for key populations – men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, sex workers and transgender people – who in 2017 still face formidable challenges to access quality healthcare, including sexual and reproductive health and HIV services. Policy barriers and high levels of stigma and discrimination in healthcare settings further complicate their access. Fundamental to overcoming these challenges is the relationship of trust between the client and healthcare worker.
In many places and often against seemingly insurmountable odds, many healthcare workers deliver quality healthcare services to key populations, which helps to retain them in care. These healthcare workers are “doing the right thing” even in settings with punitive laws. It may be a friendly receptionist, a committed nurse, a doctor that goes above and beyond to comprehend specific health issues, an understanding case manager or a pharmacist that grasps the challenges faced by key populations. These healthcare workers – who are a core part of the International AIDS Society membership base – are the people that shape and influence how and where marginalized communities seek services. They are the reason why people will walk long distances to a healthcare facility because of a comfortable and safe space in which every client, irrespective of their behaviour, orientation or work, will be treated with dignity and respect. Key to these healthcare workers’ approach is their training – both pre- and in-service – as well as their exposure to the life realities facing many key population communities through peer-navigators who are increasingly becoming part of the fabric of many healthcare facilities. And it is these healthcare champions that we should continue to learn from.
The International AIDS Society celebrates and promotes frontline healthcare workers who are “doing the right thing” through our global community driven “Me and My Healthcare Provider” campaign. The IAS supports UNAIDS and its cosponsors in promoting a non-discriminatory healthcare environment for people living with HIV and for people from key populations. While continuing to find innovative ways of tackling stigma and discrimination in healthcare settings, we should seek out and acclaim the unsung heroes who are recognised by the very community they serve and who are at the forefront of the HIV response. For it is these people who will move us closer to “zero discrimination in health care settings”.