After a recent Human Rights Watch report criticized Jamaica for failing to protect HIV-positive people from discrimination, the nation's government said it is working on legislation that will protect infected people at work and elsewhere. "But you can't just legislate to erase the stigma," said health minister John Junor. "We have to educate people."
Prime Minister P.J. Patterson's government swiftly condemned the report and denounced HRW for linking homophobia to the spread of HIV. Junor said the HRW report, which charged that discrimination against gays has undermined Jamaica's efforts to fight HIV, was unfair and did not acknowledge that his ministry has launched several campaigns against HIV/AIDS discrimination. The report said gays are subject to pervasive hostility at almost every level of Jamaican society, from the police to popular reggae music. Several attacks on gay men were detailed in the report.
New York-based HRW was also critical of public health care for HIV patients. The report noted that many people living with the disease often receive poor treatment or none at all because of the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. Despite data showing most HIV infections are transmitted through heterosexual contact, AIDS is still widely considered a gay disease in Jamaica.
About 1.5% of Jamaica's 2.6 million population, or 22,000 people, are HIV-positive. (AP)