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Bringing LGBT Health Care to the World Health Organization

in WORLD, 23/06/2013

Around the world lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals face worse health outcomes than the general population. We know the problem is in part due to the barriers they face to accessing health care. But because there is relatively little health research on this population globally, the true scope of the global burden is difficult to calculate.

These barriers range from denial of care, to inadequate or substandard care, to simply an unwillingness to go to a doctor because of discrimination or, in some countries, criminal penalties. Data confirms that within the community there are higher rates of depression and substance abuse; lesbian and bisexual women are at a greater risk of obesity and breast cancer; gay men are at higher risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections; elderly LGBT individuals face additional barriers to health because of isolation; and transgender individuals have higher rates of alcohol and tobacco use, are at higher risk for heart disease and are less likely to have health insurance than heterosexual or LGB individuals.

The World Health Organization (WHO) -- the health body of the United Nations -- has led efforts to reduce health disparities for women, ethnic, racial and religious minorities, those with disabilities, and others who have struggled to attain the health care they need. We think it is timely for WHO to take this same leadership role for the LGBT population. During the May 2013 WHO Executive Board meeting, the topic of what WHO should be doing on this front was scheduled to be discussed. When the U.S., Thailand and Brazil petitioned to have an LGBT health item added to the Board meeting's agenda, we realized it would lead to a robust debate.

Unfortunately, history was made in another way when a number of African and Middle Eastern countries, called for the item's deletion from the agenda. Never before in the history of WHO has one Executive Board member asked that an item, legitimately placed on the agenda by other member states, be removed.

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