First health centre for transgender women opens in Bellville
The Bellville Trans Women Health Centre is a partnership between the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (RHI), Western Cape Ministry of Health, USAID/Southern Africa and trans and gender-diverse activists and trans-led organisations that have pioneered services for the trans community including advocating for inclusive health-care services.
HIV prevention, care and treatment form part of a comprehensive, gender-affirming health-care package, as well as a full primary health-care package.
According to Naomi Hill, Wits RHI programme leader, 73% of trans women had been treated with less respect in medical institutions because of their gender identity, 48% had been insulted in health facilities and 40% had been denied health care.
“Also, the prevalence of HIV among transgender women in SA is 46%, which makes them a key population to reach the 90-90-90 HIV goal,” said Hill.
Trans and gender-diverse peer educators, known as trans agents, are at the centre of health-care provision. They introduce the services to trans and gender-diverse people in their community networks, provide health education and HIV testing and counselling.
“We need to get to a point where everybody has access to quality health care, especially with marginalised communities that are often forgotten,” said Dr Douglas Newman-Valentine of the Department of Health in the province.
“This is the first primary health-care clinic providing holistic service, not only looking at gender- affirming, but looking at whatever health problem you have.”
Leigh-Ann van der Merwe, a transgender woman, feminist and director of Social Health Empowerment, a non-profit organisation in the transgender and feminist movement, said: “Transgender people have to face health-care systems that are designed for straight people. We face religion in medical institutions, gender normativity, ignorance... and that causes trans people not to access health care.”
Trans women, as a vulnerable community, are pushed to the margins of society, and that’s why, according to Van der Merwe, “in addition to giving health-care services, we need to drive awareness that there is this community out there and that we are impacted by a number of issues.
“We are citizens of our country before we are transgender people.”@TheCapeArgus