Denying HIV medication to the LGBT community on religious grounds is not only discriminatory but also threatens public health.
While Malaysia is a multi-racial and religious country, the country’s constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion are infringed by the increasing politicisation of religion. This has led to discrimination and marginalisation of certain groups, particularly the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. One of the most significant ways in which this discrimination manifests is through the restricted access to life-saving medication for LGBT individuals.
The recent statement made by the Selangor Mufti regarding the provision of anti-Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) medication to the LGBT community is concerning and not based on scientific evidence. It disregards the fact that HIV is a serious public health issue that affects individuals of all sexual orientations and gender identities, and access to this life-saving medication is crucial in managing the virus and preventing its transmission.
The provision of anti-HIV medication is not an “act of collusion in sin”, but an act of compassion and responsibility towards the health and well-being of all individuals, as HIV is a disease that affects the society as a whole.
It is not appropriate to link moral or spiritual beliefs to access to necessary medical treatment, and denying access to HIV medication to the LGBT community on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity is discriminatory and can have serious health consequences.
According to UNAIDS, Malaysia has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Southeast Asia. To combat this epidemic, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) has been proven to be a highly effective method of preventing the transmission of HIV. When taken as prescribed, PrEP can reduce the risk of HIV transmission by more than 90%.
The PrEP is a highly-effective medication that can significantly reduce the risk of HIV transmission for individuals who are at high-risk of infection.
The merging of religion and politics, two powerful forces shaping societies around the world, in conversations regarding healthcare, especially for vulnerable groups in the country can and have lead to their discrimination and marginalisation.
The argument justifying these opinions are generally centered around the following points:
- Belief in Traditional Marriage
Some religious organisations may argue that marriage and intimate relationships should only be between a man and a woman, and that any other form is morally or spiritually wrong.
- Belief in the Immorality of Same-Sex Behavior
Some religious organisations may view same-sex behavior as sinful or morally wrong, and therefore believe that individuals who engage in such behavior do not deserve access to healthcare services.
- Belief in the Role of Religion in Healthcare
Some religious organisations may argue that their religious beliefs should be given precedence over scientific evidence when it comes to healthcare decisions, and that they should not be required to provide services that they believe to be morally or spiritually wrong.
A major barrier to this issue is the misinformation and stigma surrounding HIV and LGBT individuals, especially when it is perpetuated by religious organisations and leaders.
This has led to rejection and discrimination, making it difficult for LGBT individuals to access healthcare and HIV-prevention services. It is also a violation of the principle of non-discrimination in healthcare services, which states that healthcare services should be provided to all individuals without discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other grounds.
These events unfold dramatically when religion is politicised. In many ways, the real-world impact of fear-mongering and misinformation has sent a message that the lives and health of a group of people are not valued as much as others.
The consequences of religious discrimination in access to PrEP for LGBT individuals are severe, and contributes to the ongoing HIV epidemic among the LGBT community and the wider public.
- Increased Transmission
The denying of access to medication results in poorer health outcomes and the likelihood of transmission to others.
- Burdens Healthcare Systems
A potential HIV crisis pose a national security threat, and healthcare systems, who would be responsible to frontline this could ultimately be faced with more severe and costly cases of HIV, putting a strain on their resources.
- Widening Health Disparities
A growing discrimination in healthcare can lead to increased health disparities, with marginalised communities such as the LGBTQ+ community disproportionately affected.
- Decrease in Trust in the Healthcare System
When certain groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community, experience discrimination in healthcare, it can lead to decreased trust in the healthcare system and reluctance to seek out necessary medical treatment.
- Inability to Control the Spread of the Disease
By not treating the people that are most at risk, the disease will continue to spread and it will become harder to control.
The overall impacts of state-sponsored discrimination and misinformation in healthcare policies and opinions can lead to serious public health consequences and widen health disparities. The failure to address this could lead to a worsening HIV-AIDS epidemic, and could pose significant threats to the country’s economy.
It is important for the government to ensure that narratives discriminating against any group on the topic of their access to life-saving services and products are strictly prohibited.
This can be done through the implementation of nation-wide policies and guidelines that prohibit discrimination in healthcare and public services. It should also be coupled with the education and training of public servants on the importance of non-discrimination in their services.
Additionally, community-based organisations and advocacy groups can play an important role in raising awareness about the importance of PrEP for LGBT individuals, and in providing information and resources on how to access PrEP.
To address the issue of restricted access to life-saving medication for LGBT individuals in Malaysia, it is essential to separate religion from politics. In the most violent examples of this discrimination was the United States’ early response to the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
At the time, the disease was primarily impacting gay men and was often referred to as the “gay plague.”
The federal government’s response to the epidemic was slow, and there was a lack of funding for research and treatment.
Additionally, the Reagan Administration was criticised for not taking the epidemic seriously and for not addressing the needs of the gay community. This led to a lack of access to HIV medication for many gay men, particularly for those who were living in poverty.
This lack of access to HIV medication had serious consequences for public health. The disease spread rapidly within the gay community, and by the time effective antiretroviral therapy became available in the mid-1990s, many had already died.
The discrimination and lack of access to healthcare also led to a lack of trust in the healthcare system among gay men, making them less likely to seek out necessary medical treatment.
This case study illustrates how discrimination and lack of access to healthcare can have serious consequences for public health, particularly for marginalized communities like gay men living with HIV.
It is important for healthcare providers and policymakers to ensure that all individuals have equal access to HIV medication and other necessary medical treatment, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, to prevent similar situations in the future.
In conclusion, the early response to the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the United States serves as a reminder of the serious consequences that can result from discrimination and lack of access to healthcare for marginalised communities such as gay men.
It is important for healthcare providers and policymakers to ensure that all individuals have equal access to HIV medication and other necessary medical treatment, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, in order to prevent similar situations in the future and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live a healthy and fulfilling life.
There is also a strong relationship between poverty and the LGBT community’s access to healthcare, including HIV medication. This relates to people living in poverty, and who are more likely to experience discrimination and marginalisation, making it more difficult for them to access healthcare services.
While violence against the LGBT communities are perpetuated by religious arguments, it is important to note that not all religious groups have these same views on HIV, and are actively working to combat medical discrimination.
In conclusion, the politicisation of religion in Malaysia has led to a restricted access to life-saving medication for the LGBT community. While religion can be a powerful force for good, when it is politicised, it can lead to discrimination and harm to marginalised communities. It is crucial to separate religion from politics and ensure that all individuals have access to life-saving medication, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.