Nearly 1,300 transgender persons, who are Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) positive, have been left in a lurch as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Pakistan has ended its HIV prevention program for the community.
Karachi’s transgender community protested against the unexpected termination of the program outside the Karachi Press Club (KPC) on Wednesday as it has dealt a major setback to the efforts for curbing the spread of the virus.
Transgender rights activist, Shahzadi Rai, stated that Karachi has around 19,000 transgenders, out of which 1,500 were registered in the UNDP HIV Program in Sindh, including 1,300 who were being treated, and 200 were being counseled.
Additionally, 22 transgender people lost their only source of income after they were laid off without notice, Rai said.
She claimed that the UNDP had unlawfully canceled the contract for the program with the Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA), which obliged the latter to work for the welfare of the community and spread awareness about HIV until 2023.
Complaining about discrimination against the community at different levels, Rai remarked, “We don’t receive treatment when we visit the hospitals,” and asked, “Are we not the citizens of this country?”
She warned that Karachi’s transgender community will protest outside the offices of the UNDP and the Federal Ministry of Health in Islamabad on 14 August.
UNDP Pakistan’s Stance
However, UNDP Pakistan clarified in an official statement said that the agreement with the GIA ended when it expired.
The statement read: “We want to clarify that the said contract was not terminated illegally, in fact, it had expired normally on its expiration date. We will continue to have a dialogue with Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA) to hear and understand their concerns and endeavor towards a resolution that is aligned with UNDP’s commitment to human rights as well as principles and policies that uphold accountability”.
UNDP supports the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming communities, including the right for transgender people to live free from stigma and discrimination in all aspects of life.
The UNDP also highlighted that it has actively supported the rights of the transgender community by being vocal about its rights and “has worked closely with the transgender community to advocate for the social inclusion of transpersons and persons with non-binary gender identities for decades”.
The Additional Director of the Communicable Disease Control (CDC) HIV/AIDS Sindh, Dr. Irshad Kazmi, stated that the Directorate of the CDC (HIV/AIDS) has a copy of the letter that the UNDP sent to the GIA, per which the contract had been canceled for ‘programmatic reasons’. He added that no further details on the matter are available.
He mentioned that free HIV treatment is being provided at all the HIV Treatment Centers in Sindh.
On the other hand, health experts said that continuous treatment for HIV and follow-ups are essential and that engaging the community members is important for controlling its transmission, otherwise all efforts will be futile.