Posted by: G-AZZI | December 1, 2010

First of December

The first of December is not a day to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. Working on awareness and prevention should be done daily throughout the course of the year. For me, the first of December is a day for us to round up our yearly achievements, assess them, and identify the gaps in order to improve future plans.

The local HIV/AIDs scene saw some commendable developments this year: on a political level, the National Aids Program (NAP) in Lebanon recognized, for the first time ever, the importance to work on fighting stigma and discrimination against vulnerable populations (including LGBT people) on both legal and social levels. For the strategic planning for the years 2010 – 2012, the NAP has set a list of activities that will be targeting decision-makers, police, judges as well as the Lebanese media to promote tolerance and to campaign against homophobic laws and practices. This is the second major success for the LGBT community in Lebanon in the HIV/AIDS field, the first one being when the government officially recognized Helem as a national partner and sponsored its HIV testing center in 2007.

On a civil society level, many much needed services came into existence this year:

–          MARSA, which is one of the most remarkable ones, is a sexual health center offering comprehensive services covering all aspects of sexuality: psychosocial support, medical examination, and testing.

–          “Oui Pour la Vie,” is the first community based and “sex friendly” HIV prevention NGO that is based outside Beirut in Damour el Chouf.

–          Think Positive and Vivre Positif are two pioneer organizations in the region for HIV positive people by HIV positive people. They have played a major role this year in lobbying for increased protection for people living with HIV against stigma and discrimination.

–          The National AIDS Program (NAP) HIV Center is another important development. The opening of this  center, which is independent from the Central Pharmacy (previously the only source for HIV positive person treatment), is a positive step for people living with HIV to be able to acquire the necessary treatment. The center is specifically adapted to needs of HIV positive people, and offers medical and psychological counseling.

Those small progresses at the services and NAP level are not, however, reflected at the government level; sex in general is still criminalized in the Lebanese penal code (even if not always reinforced): promiscuity laws, article 534 against homosexuality, anti-commercial sex work law, etc… The existence of these laws, along with social discrimination and lack of protection are major obstacles that sexually active people and vulnerable groups face when attempting to access the previous services.

Sadly however, this year Helem and MARSA noticed an increase in reported incidents of discrimination against HIV positive people. The two most important source of discrimination are – prepare to be shocked – medical centers and the gay community itself.

While a clear improvement has been noticed throughout 2010 on the services level and the availability of prevention material and information, a lot of work still needs to be done to change unfair laws preventing the access to these services.  More campaigns are also needed to fight phobias against HIV positive people, in the general society, the medical sector, and especially within the gay community.

Major activities for this year‘s international day against HIV/AIDS:

Helem and think positive: Awareness and prevention campaign in Gemayze

Fundraising concert by “Oui pour la vie” and SIDC: December 10th at 8:30 Piere abi khater auditorium USJ

MASHROU’ LEILA – HIV/AIDS AWARENESS BENEFIT CONCERT for Lemsic Scora : Thursday, December 9 · 8:30pm – 10:30pm; Assembly Hall, American University of Beirut, Ras Beirut, Lebanon

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