Eli Coleman, PhD, and Walter Bockting, PhD, joined a meeting convened by the Pan American Health Organization / World Health Organization (PAHO / WHO) from December 19 to 21, 2011. PAHO gathered representatives of the health sector, academia, and civil society organizations to discuss a series of recommendations for health services on how to address the needs and demands of transgender people in the region of the Americas.
The conclusions of this meeting will become part of a reference document addressing the main problems affecting access to and utilization of health services for and by transgender people. In addition, a plan for the development of a comprehensive strategy for health care provision for this population throughout the region will be designed. Both documents will subsequently form the basis for sub-regional consultations to be held in 2012.
The participants of the meeting, which was held at the headquarters of PAHO/WHO in Washington D.C., decided to adopt the term "trans" to refer to a population whose members are characterized by a variety of gender identities and expressions that differ from their sex assigned at birth. This population faces a number of problems in accessing health services in the countries of the region, many of which are a result of stigma, a lack of appropriate medical protocols and a lack of information on how to deal with certain social situations.
"Trans people have traditionally been stigmatized, marginalized, abused, discriminated against, and even subject to physical and emotional violence. These and other expressions of transphobia have to be considered factors that negatively impact health," said Dr. Gina Tambini, Area Manager of Family and Community Health. "In order for the health sector to be able to adequately respond to the needs of trans persons, we must create and implement policies of non-discrimination, rely on qualified personnel, and ensure that there are environments of respect and quality of care. The presence and active participation of trans persons was a fundamental and indispensable contribution to the success of the meeting.
Trans people as a group have greater vulnerability and exposure to such health problems as HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, hepatitis, and genital herpes, which create special demands on health services. But in addition, health care providers need to be sensitive to issues of gender identity related to this group.
"The needs, problems, and demands of trans people cannot be defined externally, but must be expressed by them themselves," said Dr. Tambini.
At the PAHO meeting, participants discussed terminology, definitions, and descriptions of this population, as well as epidemiological profiles and health initiatives that have been carried out in the Americas. In addition to reviewing and discussing the content of the reference document, the meeting was intended to promote a multisectoral and multidisciplinary vision on the provision of services, including prevention.
PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. PAHO works with all countries in the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of people of the Americas and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.