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Commentary & Opinion
WHO Should Take Leadership Role to Ensure Access to Health Care for LGBT Community

June 14, 2013

Noting the WHO "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," Nils Daulaire, assistant secretary for global affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, writes in the Huffington Post's "Gay Voices" blog, "We think it is timely for WHO to take this same leadership role for the [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT)] population." He notes that "[d]uring the May 2013 WHO Executive Board meeting, the topic of what WHO should be doing on this front was scheduled to be discussed," but "[u]nfortunately, 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."

"Six hours of debate on whether this was a topic that should even be addressed by WHO ensued," Daulaire writes, adding, "Equally passionate supporters from the European and Americas regions spoke to how ensuring health access for all is a core part of WHO's work, and that this must include all vulnerable populations." He continues, "The item was removed from the day's agenda, and over the coming months the head of WHO, Dr. Margaret Chan, will talk with concerned governments to find common ground to identify WHO's role. If wording can be agreed, the item will presumably be added to the agenda of the January 2014 Executive Board meeting." According to Daulaire, "This is not the outcome we wanted at this time. Nonetheless, we also recognize that breaking new ground at the U.N. or any multi-state organization is difficult, and that topics regarding sexuality create additional hurdles to surmount." He concludes, "While we know we will not be able to prevent every individual act of discrimination, the U.S. will continue our robust global engagement to ensure that the health needs of LGBT persons do not remain locked in the closet" (6/13).

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