“Advocate for a Healthier Lebanon” Reflections from BTS Grant Winner

The Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH) calls on students interested in sexual health and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) health to participate in the annual “Break the Silence” competition and the winner gets the opportunity to attend a conference in the U.S. This year’s winner is Emile Whaibeh for the paper titled “SWOT Analysis of Antiretroviral Therapy Management in Lebanon.” Emile earned a Bachelor of Science in Medical Laboratory Sciences and is currently completing his Master’s in Public Health at the University of Balamand, Beirut, Lebanon. On September 13 – 16, 2017, Emile attended the 35th Annual Conference on LGBT Health in Philadelphia, USA.

Here is Emile’s reflection on his experience attending the conference:

“The 35th GLMA annual conference on LGBT health was a very fruitful and insightful experience. The sessions and workshops that I attended put me in the midst of an eye-opening dialogue on LGBT health care that is often overlooked, neglected or silenced in the MENA region in general- and Lebanon in particular. The focus of my entry for the Break The Silence competition was on the management of HIV treatment in Lebanon. However, most of the populations at risk have to deal with stigma, discrimination, and harsh criminalizing laws that prohibit them from properly accessing health care services even when they are provided free of charge by the Ministry of Public Health. Social determinants of health, namely gender and sexual orientation, must be taken into account when we discuss access to HIV treatment in Lebanon. Additionally, the criminalization of vulnerable populations at risk such as sex workers and drug users as well as the lack of laws protecting the rights of people living with HIV in Lebanon put in jeopardy the right of these groups to enjoy healthier, longer and dignified lives.

The conversation on HIV at the 35th GLMA annual conference was about casting personal beliefs and judgements aside and focusing on the primary mission of enhancing prevention for marginalized groups as well as educating health care providers on how to actively protect their patients and when to prescribe Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis for populations at risk. Lebanon might not be on the same page of this agenda due to cultural, political and/or financial barriers. However, as students and future health care providers, I encourage you to advocate through your research for what you believe to be a safer and healthier future for our country, and I urge you to submit your work for next year’s Break The Silence Competition. Social justice is paramount, and it is our duty to fill the gaps in health care and research by giving a voice to populations that are often not invited to the table.”