By U.S. Ambassador Walter North
On November 16th the world community will observe the 19th International Day for Tolerance. While we are reminded of the security and human rights implications of intolerance (which often takes the form of stigma and discrimination), this day also provides an opportunity to highlight the vital contribution of tolerance and acceptance to achieving important public health objectives and impact, especially those focusing on groups living on the margins of many societies.
The U.S. Government is proud to partner with the people and Government of Papua New Guinea to implement the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and help achieve an AIDS-free generation. In recent months and in collaboration with other stakeholders, we have worked hard to align our resources and programmes with both the Papua New Guinea government's priorities and PEPFAR's commitment to delivering the right things, in the right places, at the right time. This also involves careful planning to ensure that we are reaching the right people with urgently needed programmes, resources, and funding.
Here in Papua New Guinea, basic tolerance of all human beings is key to providing access to care for people who are at high risk of either acquiring or transmitting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It is only by providing accessible prevention and care services to those groups who are most vulnerable that HIV will be controlled. Among other groups, this includes women and men who engage in sex either for money or for goods and services such as food, clothes, or school fees; men who have sex with men (MSM) or with both men and women; transgender persons; and women who have been subjected to rape or domestic violence. Current laws in PNG notwithstanding, programs and policies must recognise that eliminating stigma and discrimination is critical to ensuring that all people feel safe accessing HIV/AIDS care and treatment services. Programmes that treat people with dignity and respect will have the greatest impact.
When trying to achieve an AIDS-free generation, intolerance and hatred only create barriers that keep the most vulnerable from accessing essential services and thus lead to considerable loss of life. The PNG National AIDS Council also stresses the importance of stopping discrimination and being able to access services by making this year's World AIDS day theme: "Stop discrimination. Access to services is my right."
Tolerance requires treating everyone, even those who are different, with dignity and respect. This extends to all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As President Barack Obama recently declared, "the struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States' commitment to promoting human rights."
On this International Day for Tolerance, let us affirm that all persons - sex workers, MSM, transgender persons as well as the wider LGBT community, and any group that suffers the negative health effects of discrimination such as persons with disabilities - should also be free to access and receive essential health services from providers who treat them with dignity and respect.
I call on all partners in our shared goal of controlling HIV in Papua New Guinea to practice tolerance in all aspects of service delivery. The goal of an AIDS-free generation will remain unfulfilled until every Papua New Guinean feels that he or she will be treated with tolerance and respect when seeking services to preserve health if already infected; to prevent infection of others; and to be free of the risk of rape or sexual violence.
Join me in reaching out in tolerance to everyone in need so that together, we may achieve that longed-for goal of an AIDS-free generation in Papua New Guinea.
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