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Helping transgender individuals access health care in rural Pakistan

Transgender individuals are now visiting the Khangah Sharif health centre to get basic health services.

Transgender individuals in Pakistan often do not use public health facilities due to discrimination, biases of healthcare professionals, and lack of transgender-friendly services. As a result, not only do they not get care from licensed healthcare professionals, they also have no choice but to turn to shamans or impostor doctors for health care.

Saba, a transgender individual living in Punjab Province, explained, “We do not visit public health facilities because neither other patients nor facility staff treat us with respect. Even doctors refuse us for consultation.”

The Empowerment, Voice and Accountability for Better Health and Nutrition (EVA) project, funded by UK aid and managed by Palladium, is supporting the Samaj Development Foundation (SDF) in its work to improve transgenders’ ability to access public health services in Punjab Province. It is focusing on one rural health centre – Khangah Sharif - which is located in a region with a significant transgender community.

SDF is motivating transgenders to seek health services at the centre and is increasing the wider community’s awareness of transgender rights. It is also training the health centre’s staff on how to treat transgender individuals, has established a counselling service for transgenders at the centre, and has set up a separate waiting area and washroom for these individuals. After only one month, the transgender community has begun visiting the health centre for common ailments.

“I never knew that we can also visit public health facilities,” said Resham, a transgender community member. “I always thought these services are only for females and males, and we cannot avail these services. This is the first time ever I visited a public health facility and am glad to know that we can also avail these free services.”

“Today I am surprised to see that we are also being treated as humans,” Saba said after visiting the Khangah Sharif centre.

In the coming months, SDF will continue raising the transgender community’s knowledge of their rights and encouraging transgenders to visit the centre. An awareness campaign will also be conducted through local media, and champions of transgender health rights will be identified amongst religious and political leaders. The religious leaders will be encouraged to deliver sermons in local mosques on the rights of transgenders, and the elected representatives will be engaged in creating a more enabling environment at the district administration level.

By the end of the project, SDF hopes to link 250 transgenders with the Khangah Sharif health centre.

The EVA projects aims to empower, organise and facilitate citizens and civil society to hold the governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to account for the delivery of quality reproductive, maternal, new-born, child health and nutrition services.