Access to public healthcare remains one of the key issues facing South Africa’s transgender communities. However, the Wits Reproductive Health Institute is creating a safe space for transgender people seeking healthcare, becoming SA’s first dedicated healthcare facility for transgender people.
In South Africa, our progressive constitution allows for the change of one’s sex description on their birth record, under certain conditions, through the Alterations of Sex Description and Sex Status Act (2003), but bridging the gap in healthcare and removing the stigma and prejudice they often face while trying to access healthcare in the country can be damaging.
The prestigious University of the Witwatersrand has made history by opening the centre that is the first transgender healthcare facility of its kind in the country, and continent.
“When I go there asking for treatment, some they start gossiping about to, laughing at you and the way you are that this person is gay,” says Tiny Williams of her experiences as a trans woman at ordinary health clinics.
Williams says that she only goes to non-government facilities like the Wits clinic, “Within five minutes I am done with everything and there is no criticism about the way I am”.
Jonathan Bosworth, a counselling psychologist with a special interest in the LGBTQIA+ community, told Sowetanlive back in April that access to healthcare for trans people is a fundamental problem in South Africa.
“When transgender individuals access healthcare services, their gender identity becomes the focus rather than actually the flu or a broken foot or whatever it is. I think that can be quite traumatising or further stigmatising for gender-diverse people,” said Bosworth.
Wits Reproductive Health Institute said transgender women are at 49 percent risk of contracting HIV than any other population in the world.
The Johannesburg facility is a result of 5-year USAID Award which aims to increase access to healthcare to marginalized groups including the LGBT community and sex workers in South Africa. Besides having one located in Johannesburg, there are also three other clinics that are located in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape provinces.