Discrimination fuels the HIV epidemic in Latin America

In Latin America transgender women and sex workers experience such extreme stigma and discrimination that it is difficult for them to access public health services. Of course, this fuels the HIV epidemic among sex workers and transgender women, by isolating them and driving them away from essential HIV prevention services.

There are two key networks in the region, Redlactrans (representing transwomen) and RedTraSex (representing sex workers).

Big changes in policies, laws and services

The networks have made great progress and have increased significantly in size. In 2004, there were six national organisations of RedTraSex; in 2012 there were 15 - representing over 15,500 individual members across the region. Redlactrans has rapidly grown from a presence in three countries in 2008 to 17 in 2012.

RedTraSex has had unprecedented success in bringing change to national policies and local regulations that had a negative impact in the protection of sex workers' human rights and their access to HIV services. This includes the repeal of local regulations that prohibited sex workers’ free circulation in Panama city and three states in Argentina, and replacing the stigmatising ‘Sex Workers Health Card’ in Ecuador for a ‘Comprehensive Healthcare Card’ which has increased access to health services.

Redlactrans’ advocacy focuses on gender identity legislation and was instrumental in the passing of the historic Gender Identity Law in Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico City. In addition, National AIDS programmes in Argentina, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay and Mexico, now include ‘friendlier’ services, access to HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention for key populations with specific attention to transgenders’ needs.

The networks are strong. RedTraSex's track record has meant it received a grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, which will help it increase its activities over the next five years. This is testament, not just to RedTraSex's accomplishments but also to why a fully funded Global Fund is essential. Most countries in the Latin America region are categorised as middle income, and are seeing international aid reduce. National governments are not fully funding targeted services for politically isolated groups, which is where services need to be in Latin America to effectively tackle the epidemic.

RedTraSex has had unprecedented success in bringing change to national policies and local regulations.