Source: Ciclo Positivo.
Medical advancements have made it so that acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is no longer a death sentence. However, those affected by the disease still face stigma and discrimination. In the pursuit of acceptance and equality, Argentine civil society organizations have taken it upon themselves to reshape the meaning of public health. While we often think of public health from a medical standpoint, social factors—including ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and socioeconomic background—are critical to how individuals experience public health challenges. Narrow interpretations that only focus on medical issues limit the ability of governments and changemakers to respond to health crises. This is why health must also be regarded as a social problem. By adopting this perspective, societies can better understand the obstacles that stand in the way of greater equality and design effective policies to create a more just world. Following Argentina’s civil society push for social justice and to voice the concerns of marginalized communities, the country’s government took important steps that focus on social matters in its response to AIDS.
As is the case for any serious health challenge, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) demands a comprehensive array of medical-related services. From diagnosis to treatment, public health is key in providing accessible care for those exposed to the virus. Furthermore, research demonstrates that factors like gender identity and socioeconomic background can greatly influence susceptibility to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS. Transgender individuals, queer people, and sex workers are particularly vulnerable to these health risks. That is why it is crucial to place the needs of these individuals and their specific communities at the center of the discussion. By recognizing that social inequalities have a greater impact on these groups, governments and NGOs can develop targeted interventions designed to meet their specific needs.
Role of Civil Society Organizations
Globally, the LGBTQ+ rights movement advocates ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. One of the ways in which this prejudice is present is in unequal access to health. Community-led organizations are working to solve this challenge. In Argentina, civil society organizations have been the protagonists in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights for a while. Through persistent activism, demands for access to equal marriage, a gender identity law, and anti-discrimination safeguards are now a reality in the country. Undoubtedly, Argentina’s latest take on social matters regarding HIV is no different. It is impossible to understand its content without recognizing the voices of these organizations.
From raising awareness with the general public to drafting a law proposal focused on comprehensively addressing HIV, NGOs have always been present in Argentina’s fight for equality. The importance of these organizations lies in their ability to amplify the testimonies of stigmatized communities and offer solutions to government officials. Mechanisms such as dialogue tables and knowledge transfers between activists, social groups, and government authorities effectively achieve a more comprehensive perspective. This kind of collaboration directly provides policymakers with insights and perspectives from those most affected. Their testimonies serve as invaluable assets for creating powerful responses.
For example, in 2017, the health commission in the Argentine Congress ruled in favor of a national law for the integral response to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Still, due to a lack of political support, it didn’t make it past the rest of the legislative process. Activist groups protested this decision and mobilized before Congress, demanding political commitment. Following the demonstrations, government officials and activists set up a dialogue table. From there on, the parties arranged to follow up to finalize the project’s content.
Argentina’s latest response to HIV/AIDS is a clear example of a longstanding problem being addressed with a broader understanding of health in mind. Last June, Argentina’s Congress approved Law 27675, updating regulations enacted over thirty years ago. The new legal framework creates tools and mechanisms to reverse the socioeconomic disparities that affect marginalized communities while reinforcing the preexisting focus on providing medicine, testing, and treatment.
Argentina’s new law provides guidelines to build interdisciplinary and intersectoral responses, guaranteeing human rights in health, labor, and civil rights. The new legal framework establishes testing and the provision of adequate treatment for HIV as a national interest. It also commits to financing research and the development of new forms of treatment. These commitments certify that medical care is guaranteed, setting the foundations for addressing the other sides of the issue.
In addition to committing to improving medical outcomes, the law takes a novel approach and incorporates elements that aim to support the welfare of Argentines living with HIV. One way this is done is by implementing new labor rights. These new rights help marginalized groups by prohibiting diagnostic tests for HIV, viral hepatitis, and other STIs during pre-employment medical exams and during the relationship with an employer. Education institutions, public or private, are also banned from demanding mandatory diagnostic tests for members of their community. This proposal tackles diagnoses used as a weapon for workplace and school discrimination.
Additionally, Law 27675 creates a non-contributory retirement plan for people with HIV or Hepatitis B/C. Due to discrimination, people living with HIV have difficulties accessing formal employment and, therefore, cannot meet the criteria to access pension plans. In this case, a progressive pension scheme where low-income people with HIV and Hepatitis B/C contribute less than those with a higher income to gain a similar pension is an effective way to achieve greater economic inclusion.
A Path Forward for the Rest of the Region
Committing to testing, treatment, and support is a core element of addressing HIV/AIDS as a health challenge. What happens at the doctor’s office is crucial, but real commitment needs to go further than that. Through resilient activism, Argentina’s civil society achieved tangible changes in the country’s health paradigm, introducing regulations focused on providing access to healthcare while reducing marginalization. Political leaders from across the Americas can learn from Argentina’s experience and prioritize community-led strategies as key tools in their national responses to address this challenge. People are calling for a broader understanding of health. It is time policymakers listen.
Please find more information here for additional resources on HIV and other STDs.
Francisco Gulielmetti is an intern at Global Americans. He currently studies International Studies at Universidad Torcuato Di Tella and lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Follow Francisco on Twitter @fran_guliel.