It is no exaggeration that the transgender community is among the most marginalized in our society, as well as being at the receiving end of the most horrifying incidents of violence. From education to health, almost in all aspects of life the rights guaranteed to every citizen under law somehow elude transgdender persons. While recent years have seen some encouraging legislation regarding the community, healthcare concerns continue to be a challenge – sometimes due to discriminatory customs and at times due to apathetic funding. In this context, recent reports of the discontinuation of a UN-funded project that provided the transgender community with care and support in HIV and AIDS-related issues have obviously led to disappointment and protest. Over 1,500 transgender persons benefited from the programme, which shut its doors in July. The protesters are demanding that the programme continue to offer its services through the Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA). This project offered critical support to HIV/AIDS patients and hundreds of transgender persons were befitting from it.
In the absence of locally-funded initiatives against HIV/ AIDS, such donor-funded projects play a crucial role in providing healthcare to patients, espcially those from the transgender community. The project in question offered not only care and counseling, but treatment as well. Generally in Pakistan – and in many other countries too – HIV and AIDS carry an unjustified stigma that prevents the infected person from freely discussing the disease and seeking treatment. There are not many clinics that have sympathetic staff and qualified doctors to offer treatment in Pakistan. In these conditions, having a reliable outlet for care and prevention of the virus is of high-benefit value for a community that is short on resources and without alternatives to seek help from.
Those who have been struggling with the disease know how hard it is to face the travails of a stigmatized life. The over 1,500 registered HIV-infected trans-persons include 1,300 who were actively receiving treatment whereas over 200 were seeking counselling service from the project. Essentially it is the government’s responsibility to provide free counseling and treatment to all HIV and AIDS patients across the country. If the government is unable to do so, at least it should intervene on behalf of the trans-community – who are equal citizens in all matters – so that donors do not end up terminating projects abruptly without proper transition to a more institutionalized arrangement for the treatment of patients. Successive governments have failed to prioritize tackling HIV/AIDS, which requires a thorough and multi-pronged approach that deals with the provision of medical services along with an awareness campaign to address the cultural taboos that surround the spread of the virus. The issue needs utmost care and caution without which there may be serious consequences for HIV/AIDS affectees. And when it comes to the transgender community, the threat becomes magnified due to the hatred and violence they face just for existing.