Approaching the last week of our study abroad program and work with our community placement sites, Max and I have been kept plenty busy with a few new tasks at the Triangle Project. This non-profit human rights organization provides a wide range of services to the LGBTI community in South Africa in order to help better realize the full human and constitutional rights of this often underserved and marginalized group. Ongoing projects we have completed this summer have included the drafting of a policy briefing regarding LGBTI sensitivity training for providers in the medical community. Healthcare providers are often misinformed about the reproductive and mental health needs of this group while services are frequently offered in a prejudiced manner that can lead to further stigmatization, fear and a reluctance to seek out medical care. It has been difficult at times for Max and I to read through and try to process the various literature outlining the conditions the LGBTI community faces in addition to personal narratives and testimonies describing some of the challenges and abuse individuals have faced here. Nonetheless, it has been inspiring to see the community responding to these inequities and disservices. For instance, reading through the Department of Higher Education and Training’s Policy Framework For The Realisation of Social Inclusion In The Post-School Education And Training System and seeing a specific reference for the need to address homophobia coupled with a requirement for Universities to monitor, report on, and include “internal guidelines that promote awareness on Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) rights and combat any form of homophobic violence against these groups” in their institutional policies offered quite a reassuring sign.
While these pledges and requirements are promising and great on paper, the need for community monitoring groups such as the Triangle Project is certainly still necessary to follow the implementation of these guidelines and to pressure parliament and specific political leaders if these promises are delayed or unsuccessful in practice. Max and I actually visited Parliament once with a group from the Triangle Project to observe several portfolio committee meetings. While the discussions we sat in on didn’t necessarily seem particularly related to the Triangle Project’s work as they were focused on the police services quarterly financial reports and a discussion regarding a dilapidated police headquarters building the department of public works has spent the last two years delaying making renovations to, we learned that the organization is able to develop relationships with various parliament members through the monitoring and surveying of these meetings. These relationships can prove useful when the Triangle Project is trying to lobby for more relatable or pertinent issues, like the need for widespread LGBTI sensitivity training for instance.
The entire group also visited the Ivan Toms Clinic in Woodstock, implementing the Health for Men project, which offered further encouragement after seeing a clinic working to provide tailored services to members of the LGBTI community in order to try and combat some of the evident health disparities. The Health for Men Project, which coordinates with several groups including the South African Department of Health and USAID, works in response to the significant levels of HIV infections present in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) populations that has higher prevalence rates than other groups. Through our research at the Triangle Project, Max and I are familiar with the prejudices and inadequate health information counseling sessions that can contribute to these high levels of HIV infection amongst MSM. It was quite promising to see a clinic with many dedicated health professionals specifically tailored and trained to meet the needs of this group and which could serve as a model for further medical establishments. Max and I were also able to get some helpful information from health practitioners at the clinic regarding syphilis in Cape Town and possible reasons for the seemingly increased prevalence of the bacterial infection. We have been working on and have designed several informational pamphlets for both healthcare staff and clients as the Triangle Project has specifically noticed an increase in the number of clients presenting with syphilitic symptoms recently and wants to help further provide educational counseling on the STD’s symptoms, how clients can best protect themselves from infection and how to get testing and treatment if needed.
As Max and I approach the closing of our time with the Triangle Project, we have been wrapping up some data processing work and drafting several summarizing reports for the organization with regard to information gathered from their latest module on LGBTI political leadership-learning as well. This workshop is comprised of 5 different modules and is put on with the aim to better prepare individuals for cognizant and strategic LGBTI political leadership while also training participants in how to best advance equality within political institutions and democratic processes. Working through this data has shed interesting light on some of the barriers and proposed solutions individuals have with how to better craft more meaningful and effective discussions on themes relevant to the LGBTI community in political settings. Max and I have also been working with the white papers the Department of Health has issued on the implementation of a National Health Insurance (NHI) healthcare scheme in South Africa. Specifically, we have been looking for updates or variances in the different versions of these reports that have been issued recently that may hold implications for the LGBTI community. Throughout various public health classes taken at Hopkins, many students in our group have learned about some of the different healthcare strategies implemented in other countries, including the specifics of how countries set up a NHI system and how this structure operates to provide universal health care for it’s citizens. It will be quite interesting to continue monitoring the status of this proposed NHI healthcare system and timeline for implementation in South Africa, especially as the United States continues the debate for what healthcare will look like in our country going forward. While themes certainly vary, it’s important that we have been reminded that to an extent certain challenges and questions regarding healthcare issues and solutions are universal in nature.
- Toby Harris