"From the public health point of view, this is an extremely important measure," Dr Figueroa said Friday. He was addressing reporters on the final day of the eighth annual general meeting of the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP), at the Rose Hall Resort and Country Club in Montego Bay.
Head of Epidemiology and AIDS in the Ministry of Health, Dr Peter Figueroa (right), in discussion with chairman of the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP), the Honourable John Fabien (centre), and its director Carl Browne at the organisation's 8th annual general meeting in Montego Bay. (Photo: Keril Wright)
According to the epidemiologist the "outdated law", which has been cited by legal advocates as serving no useful purpose, serves only to push stigmatization of homosexual men and drive the spread of the dreaded HIV.
"When we stigmatise men who have sex with men, it drives not only the epidemic underground, but it also moves men who have sex with men to disguise their sexuality," explained Figueroa, who was recently awarded with the Order of Jamaica - the nation's fourth highest honour - for his work in HIV/AIDS education/prevention. As such, he said some men, in order to disguise their true lifestyles, take on a girlfriend and have sex with these women, who are unaware that they are really homosexuals.
"This acts as a bridge in terms of HIV transmission from the gay community, where rates of HIV are very high, into the general population and continues to feed the epidemic," Figueroa charged.Unprotected anal sex, he noted, was a very high-risk means for HIV transmission and although the epidemic is primarily heterosexual, there is a significant contribution through risky unprotected sex among men.
He added that his call was purely from a public health standpoint and not on any moral grounds.
"By removing the buggery act and sending clear signal to the community that they are included in the society, it helps to promote personal responsibility for safe sex," Figueroa told reporters. "It's also important from a recognition and affirmation of rights standpoint," he explained, noting that this would affirm their right to make decisions as adults about their sexuality and what they do in the privacy of their bedrooms.
He cited certain countries like Suriname and Cuba, which have no such laws and Barbados, which repealed its buggery law in the early 90s.
Dominica's minister of health and environment and chairman of PANCAP, John Fabien, supported Figueroa's stance, insisting that he too would be in support of his own country repealing its buggery law and for other regional nations to get it off their books.
"This is a core group that is very vulnerable and the question of human rights and the question of discrimination comes in and you have this piece of legislation which is outdated," said Fabien. "We have to do something about it. We have to try to get it off our books."
The two-day AGM comprised 170 participants from 29 countries, 33 regional bodies and 15 bilateral agencies and saw the ratification of a new strategic framework. PANCAP's director, Carl Browne, said this new framework seeks to achieve a 25 per cent reduction in new infection, mortality and socio-economic impact on households by 2012.