Ruby Mercenario is a 32-year-old transgender woman who receives care at the Francisco Gonzalvo public hospital in the La Romana province of the Dominican Republic. She praises the benefits of receiving services at a place free of stigma and discrimination.
Queenie, or Q as she sometimes goes by, is an HIV positive, transgender (trans) person living in Guyana. When Q fell ill after defaulting on anti-retroviral therapy (ART), she was hesitant to resume her treatment. Given the stigma and discrimination Q had experienced in the hospital as a trans person, she was not looking forward to going back alone. So she reached out to Guyana Trans United (GTU), an organization that supports the trans community, for assistance.
In the Dominican Republic (DR), transgender (trans) persons experience stigma and discrimination in many different ways and are denied the same opportunities as other Dominicans. In recent years, more efforts have been directed at improving the quality of life for the trans community. However, these initiatives focus mainly on HIV prevention and treatment, ignoring the multiple socioeconomic and health needs of these marginalized individuals.
Key populations in the Dominican Republic have HIV prevalence rates that are six to twelve times higher than the national average of 0.8 percent. Although there are multiple players committed to tackling the concentrated HIV epidemic, large gaps in coverage and access to HIV prevention, care and treatment services remain.
Through a grant awarded under Advancing Partners & Communities (APC), the Network of Guyanese Living with and Affected by HIV expands on an existing prevention program promoting positive health, dignity and prevention reaching key populations through HIV Testing and Counseling outreach within rural communities, peer education training, identifying barriers affecting access to care, and community sensitization and education sessions. The organization also addresses the reduction of stigma and discrimination and sexual and gender-based violence.