Transgender: When a Facebook status takes precedence over national health report

Media should be informative and allow readers to have access to balance reporting. To a certain extent, they are also responsible for the course of actions people decide out of the news they choose to disseminate.

In this instance, certain media have selectively made reports that are skewed toward human rights advocacy rather than giving a fair coverage on health issues stemmed out from certain lifestyle behaviour. LGBT is one issue that falls into this category.

Recently a Facebook posting by Nisha Ayub, a transgender activist himself, congratulating Laeticia Phylliscia Raveena for winning Miss Transsexuals Australia 2017 was picked up by English portals namely The Star, Malaysiakini, Free Malaysia Today and Malay Mail Online.

Strangely, at the time of this writing, the news did not appear as headlines in Australian media, let alone the mention of any nationalities of the winners. The obsession of our Malaysian portals for this kind of news is mind-boggling, when health data is abundance locally and abroad on the risk LGBT poses to the public in terms of HIV and AIDS infection.

To alleviate discriminatory practices against LGBT is not by burying the truth about the real health risk. LGBT people have the rights to know what they’re exposing themselves to, for their own benefit. Media, has failed them for “newsworthy” reports that are more often that not only meant “hot and sensationalised”.

FACTS ON TRANSGENDER BY MALAYSIAN PROGRESS REPORT

It is infact a disservice to Malaysians public when these media choose not to adequately report on data from the recently published “Global AIDS response progress report Malaysia 2016 in ending AIDS by 2030”(Malaysia Global AIDS). This yearly report was highlighted through official statements of relevant ministries and agencies over their FBs or websites. Full data is accessible for everyone but sadly, they remain as pdf documents neatly kept in the websites. Media can actually dig more, get the public opinions and create awareness to the mass.

So what did the progress report say?

It revealed that apart from people who inject drugs and female sexual workers, 2 other groups that represent populations most affected by AIDS epidemic with HIV infection rates exceeding 5% are; men who have sex with men (MSM) or gay and transgender people (TG). To be exact, it was 8.9% in MSM and 5.6% in TG.

Now, going by the testimonials and interviews by the press, a transgender may deny practicing or involving in unsafe sex practices but researches which were carefully designed to protect privacy and ensured anonymity as well as clinic data that recorded their social working history, would tell a different story.

The above Global AIDS progress report stated that more than 80% of transgenders are receiving money for sex, and the number has been consistent in surveys done in 2009, 2012 and 2014.

FACTS ON TRANSGENDER AND HIV GLOBALLY

The global AIDS response above was for studies and data in 2015 in Malaysia. Globally, Lancet journal has reported in 2012, a study by John Hopkins School of Public Health which revealed that after 10 years, despite having a good health intervention promotion among homosexuals in USA which was deemed as having the best health services for this group, the rate of HIV infections has escalated almost similar to the rate in developing countries like Thailand or Malaysia.

Thailand and Malaysia did not have such a robust and comprehensive intervention and sex education program as USA at the time.

The study which collected data that were part of routine United Nations reporting from member nations, thus concluded that anal penetration has 18 times more risk for HIV infection as compared to normal population because biologically, anus have more blood vessels than a woman’s vagina and therefore, a good site in transmitting the virus by blood.

In 2013, the same group of researchers reported again in Lancet, from pooled data that a transgender in actual, is 48.8 times more likely to acquire HIV infection as compared to all adults of reproductive age.

CONDOM AS SAFE SEX MEASURES

The pro-LGBT advocates often argue that safer sex practices through the usage of condom is the key to alleviate AIDS epidemic, but the Malaysia Global AIDS report made a note stating that safer sex practice has only improved slightly among TG. In fact, condom use behaviour was not getting any better among homosexuals.

The report quoted a bio-behavioural study survey revealing that there’s an alarming trend of alcohol consumption and psychotropic drugs used prior to having sex among TG and gay that impede the proper use of condom during sexual intercourse.

SHUNNING THE ROLE OF ISLAMIC NGOS AND PAINTING THEM AS HOMOPHOBICS

Homosexuality, transgenderism, drug and alcohol consumption are all impermissible in Islam. Malaysia has adopted Islam as the religion of federation, which has rightly addressed all these high risk behaviour through the Constitution, the state laws and enactments to ensure that we are free from AIDS and HIV epidemic as well as other sexual transmitted diseases as much as possible.

Many Islamic NGOs and health care workers genuinely keep on voicing these concerns, regularly and strongly advising against the lifestyles of LGBT for the sake of their physical and psychological health being and of the general public. Very few English media have given them enough space and opportunities to present their views and their engagement with LGBT communities. More often than not, they have been accused as homophobics. Negative reports on Islamic authorities in dealing with LGBT are the order of the day. Significant outreach works made by individual Islamic figures and organisations such as Persatuan Insaf Pahang and Persatuan Amal Firdausi are technically unheard of, by the same media that prefer to have their report taken solely from the FB account of a transgender activist.

Islamic principles emphasize on compassion and being merciful. It reminds the importance of health and preservation of human life. The public and LGBT communities need to understand that the forbiddance of their lifestyles are in tandem with concepts such as maslahah (in the public interest), mafsadah (to minimize harm) and mudhorrah (closing the door that lead to harmful consequences). These principles are never to condemn persons, but behaviours which are modifiable.

The media needs to have greater sense of responsibility towards the nation by reporting facts and news that really matter. The news of Transsexuals Pageant obtained via an FB of an activist, should not outbalance the health risk the group pose, as revealed nonetheless by an endorsed national report through systematic studies involving thousands of people and health specialists.

Associate Professor Dr Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar

Faculty of Medicine and Health Science USIM

Vice President I-MEDIK

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