Posted by Ben Clapham, June 4, 2013
It is midnight and I just returned to my hotel after spending the evening with the team from SOMOSGAY, the most important grass-roots organization led by young gay men, other men who have sex with men and trans individuals (collectively referred to as GMT) in Paraguay. SOMOSGAY has been a grantee of amfAR’s for three years. Tonight they made history in Paraguay and in the Latin American region as they inaugurated the first holistic health care center for men in Paraguay.
(from left to right) Exiting Director Simon Cazal, Dr. Ivan Fernando Allende Criscioni, and Adolfo Ruiz Ferreira inaugurating the center.
The medical center is in Asunción, Paraguay’s capital, inside the community center that SOMOSGAY recently purchased—in part using amfAR funds. The center will provide health care services for all men, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or socio-economic status
“This medical center never could have come into existence without the early support from amfAR funding rapid HIV tests,” the exiting executive director, Simon Cazal told me. “Before amfAR provided rapid HIV tests, GMT were not getting tested. The state did not provide adequate services and no one knew their status.”
Signs outside the KUIMBA'E Men's Wellness Center.
SOMOSGAY is now testing over 200 people every month. GMT in Paraguay often face discrimination from health care providers, which not only deters them from seeking out HIV tests, but medical care in general. SOMOSGAY wanted to build on their now established reputation as a trusted rapid testing site and offer men comprehensive, non-discriminatory care.
Outside KUIMBA'E Men's Wellness Center on inauguration night.
The opening of the KUIMBA'E (Guaraní for man) Center marks an important moment. For the first time, medical services tailored to men will be offered free of charge and accessible both during and after normal business hours. Currently, people must wait in long lines at state-funded health care facilities that close at 5 p.m., meaning those who work during the day can’t get the care they need.
Simon and the incoming director, Sergio Lopez, are stars of sorts in Paraguay. Everywhere we went, whether to a restaurant or walking down the street, people recognized them and thanked them for the incredible work they are doing for Paraguay. During my visit, they spoke with a dozen media outlets to promote their services and talked about the importance of all men having equal access to health care. They have their sights set on bigger things in the future, including extending their medical services outside of the capital.
One thing is certain, the KUIMBA’E of Paraguay are set to receive free, quality services without waiting for hours in line.