Invest in research to improve the health of LGBT people

Homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people generally have poorer health than the general public, not least in poor countries. However, health data for this group are often lacking. Now Sweden and the UN must invest in research that can improve the health, rights and well-being of LGBT people, writes the debater Maria Sjödin.

The UN High Level Forum on Sustainable Development is currently underway in New York. At the meeting, UN member states will discuss and follow up the implementation of the goals for sustainable development - an action plan for "people, the planet and prosperity".

The intention of the global goals is to "leave no one behind" - leave no one behind. Both former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and the UN's independent expert on LGBT issues, Vitit Muntarbhorn, have made it clear what should be a matter of course - that sustainable development goals include all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Poorer health among LGBT people

A new report published by OutRight Action International and Global Forum on MSM and HIV emphasizes that all available research shows that the health of LGBT people is consistently worse than that of the general population. The report Agenda 2030 for LGBTI Health and Wellbeing has been developed ahead of the UN High Level Forum on Sustainable Development, which meets on 10-19 July at the UN Headquarters in New York. At this meeting, the health goal will be followed up, among other things: Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for everyone of all ages.

LGBT people have the right to health - the same as all other people, and thus LGBT people must be included in the implementation of the health goal. Agenda 2030 for LGBTI Health and Wellbeing examines, among other things, data from low- and middle-income countries and shows that gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men are 19 times more likely to live with HIV compared to the general population. For trans women, the situation is even worse as they are as much as 49 times more likely to live with HIV.

I remember a meeting in Stockholm in the middle of the first decade of the 2000st century when I was head of RFSL. At this meeting, a representative of UNAIDS claimed that the HIV epidemic in southern Africa was "heterosexual". When we from RFSL questioned this, in light of what we knew about infectivity in, for example, anal sex and the difficulties of getting discriminated and vulnerable groups to be tested, it was clear that our words weighed lightly. There was no evidence to prove what we claimed. Only a couple of years later came the first research that showed exactly what we claimed - that there was a large number of blacks and a clear over-representation of HIV among gay and bisexual men. The lack of data meant that there were no years of possible prevention efforts against a vulnerable group.

Lack of research in poor countries

Although some progress has been made in examining the health of LGBT people and people in some high-income countries, research is largely lacking in other parts of the world. The lack of data causes problems in effectively targeting health care to help those most in need. Although some high-income countries have effectively used research to direct HIV prevention to gay and bisexual men and other affected populations, this has not been the case in most countries. The lack of health data makes it more difficult for LGBT people to access the resources needed and becomes an excuse for governments that are hostile to their citizens in the LGBT group to ignore their health needs.

The ambition of the global goals of not leaving anyone behind will only succeed if the follow-up is inclusive. The groups that are not included in the follow-up risk being left out of the efforts made within the framework of the global goals. As LGBT people are not explicitly mentioned among the 17 goals or the 169 sub-goals, it is especially important to include LGBT people in the voluntary reporting.

Here, Sweden can do a lot by leading the way for an inclusive report. In Sweden's report to this year's meeting, LGBT people are mentioned five times, but unfortunately without any figures or statistics being mentioned. Prior to the next reporting, Sweden should make an effort to include statistics for LGBT people in the indicators and data that are then reported.

Should prioritize research on LGBT people

Sweden is a donor that invests in using the global goals as a framework in development aid. At the same time, Sweden is one of the few countries that prioritises LGBT in its development assistance efforts. Sweden should therefore prioritize investments in research that produces part of the missing set of facts about the situation of LGBT people. Through this, Sweden can both contribute to LGBT people's rights being given more attention and at the same time expand the knowledge base that shows why investments in the LGBT group are significant.

Of course, no further research should be needed for all Member States to repeal laws, policies and practices that today criminalize same-sex relationships or prevent transgender people from having their gender identities recognized. It should also be a matter of course that no transgender people are forcibly sterilized and that no intersex children are mutilated to fit social norms.

But to achieve full rights and equality that includes LGBT and intersex people, it will not be enough to use human rights as an argument. Research is also needed that shows the effects of excluding part of the population.

We LGBT organizations are well aware of the health losses that steal lives, but insufficient evidence makes it more difficult to convince healthcare providers to respond to needs. LGBT people and intersex people are also disadvantaged in several of the other areas covered by the global goals.

Sweden and the UN should accelerate a research revolution for LGBT and intersex inclusion, which can improve health, rights and well-being by 2030!

Maria Sjödin

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