World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Image credit: UN Photo
Bangkok Thailand, 12 October 2020 – ‘Rest assured that we have heard your important message and, as we update our guidance and approach to COVID-19, we will ensure that specific challenges of LGBTQI communities will be recognized and addressed,’ WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, in a letter addressed to APCOM dated October 8, 2020.
The letter was in response to an open letter to WHO which APCOM wrote with other LGBTQI networks and organizations working to advance the rights of LGBTQI communities in Asia and the Pacific region, calling for the ‘World Health Organization to integrate effects of COVID-19 on the LGBTQI communities and for SOGIESC Inclusive strategies and response to COVID-19.’
The open letter aimed to bring attention to the effects of COVID-19 on LGBTQI communities, as evidenced by various researches and surveys conducted by LGBTQI organizations; and statements by experts and various UN agencies.
The effects of COVID-19—based on an APCOM survey—showed that organizations and communities were concerned about the effects of COVID-19 regarding the delivery of health services, including HIV-related services. Access of LGBTQI people to mental health services, for those who need them, has been affected by the pandemic. These issues are in addition to the stigma and discrimination, experienced by service users during normal times.
In a joint statement issued by human rights experts on May 14, 2020 in time for the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, this disproportionate effect has highlighted how COVID-19 has contributed to existing inequalities and discrimination. In relation to the LGBTQI communities, the statement outlined that criminal laws add to the vulnerability of LGBTQI because of police abuse and arbitrary arrest and detention in relation to the restriction of movement (ROM). Also, LGBTQI people who are required to stay at home, experience prolonged exposure to unaccepting family members. As a consequence, this exacerbates rates of domestic violence and physical and emotional abuse. Without a doubt, this affects their physical and mental health.
‘The Petition Statement of Support for LGBTQI communities in Asia Pacific’ was first sent to WHO headquarters by APCOM last August 24, with an initial 20 organizations who signed on. It was then published in APCOM’s newsletter for other organizations to support and sign on to.
Lastly, the petition letter was supported and signed by 70 organizations and field experts across the Asia Pacific region; and some global LGBTQI organizations. Updated with a list of signatories, it was again sent to WHO headquarters last.
September 17, 2020.
In his letter, Dr. Ghebreyesus also underscored the importance of ‘community evidence, surveys, and feedback tools as vital tools in strengthening their response.’ He further stated that ‘we need to ensure all voices on how to best respond to the pandemic and deliver health services are heard.’
“We are also elaborating a CSO engagement strategy to strengthen WHO’s engagement with civil society at global, regional and country level. Strong relationships with the LGBTQI communities already exist in the context of our work on HIV, sexual and reproductive health, gender and universal health coverage—yet we can and must strive to extend this focus to all aspects of health,”Dr. Ghebreyesus says.
“Health is a right for all people and we all must come together in the face of COVID-19 to ensure health promotion and life-saving services are available to everyone.”
“On behalf of the 70 odd signatories to the letter to WHO Director-General, we would like to thank Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in acknowledging the specific needs of LGBTQI people in the Covid-19 response,”Midnight Poonkasetwattana, APCOM’s Executive Director says.
“We would like to work closely with WHO as the guidance and approach to COVID-19 is being updated to ensure that the health, wellbeing and human rights of LGBQI people will not be compromised.”
Midnight Poonkasetwattana furthermore expresses that APCOM and other LGBTQI networks and organizations will continue to engage other relevant institutions for more inclusive and non-discriminatory responses to COVID-19.