Joburg’s Queer Wellness Centre is a first in SA

Dr Claudia Do Vale at the Queer Wellness Centre

The recently launched Queer Wellness Centre (QWC) in Johannesburg is said to be SA’s most comprehensive specialist private clinic targeting the LGBTQI+ community – for those that can afford it.

While there are a number of queer-friendly clinics in South Africa offering free donor or government-funded services, they tend to focus on the HIV and sexual health needs of our still marginalised community.

QWC, based in Illovo, sets itself apart by offering a broader and more comprehensive range of services for LGBTQI+ people, including anal health, endocrinology, urology and psychiatry.

QWC says that it will also act as a platform to help fast track transgender affirmation therapy – an underdeveloped medical area in South Africa with decade-long waiting lists at clinics across the country.  It provides endocrinology services for hormone therapy and connects patients with surgical specialists to plan and perform transition surgery.

The founders of QWC, Dr Claudia Do Vale and Dr Ryan van der Merwe, said their aim was to provide unbiased, personalised care while offering state of the art medical services specific to the needs of the LGBTQI+ community. As an example, the QWC will be the only clinic with anoscopy technology therefore able to provide a “pap smear for your anus” to prevent anal cancer.

“Much time, dedicated research and care have been put into the foundation phase of this centre. Cultural experts, researchers, medical doctors and financiers joined forces to bring life to QWC,” said Dr Do Vale.

“Overall, this centre is a place of compassion and targeted specialist health care. We opened our doors in November 2019 and plan on expanding into other parts of the country as well as the African continent in the future.

“It is a privilege to be able to contribute towards good healthcare and safe spaces for the LGBTQI+ community. We want to make a meaningful impact on the lives of members of the community and this will serve as the foundation on which the QWC legacy will be built,” Dr Do Vale said.

She said members of the LGBTQI+ community already have fewer options when seeking discrimination and stigma-free healthcare. Dr Do Vale added that denying a person healthcare or treating a person differently because of their gender identity or sexual orientation “is against the South African constitution (Section 27 and Section 9).”

She noted there are limited services available at a surgical and subspecialist endocrine level with years-long waiting lists for surgery. The holdup is due in part to a lack of specialists in this field.

“We want to help any person seeking transgender affirmation surgery by connecting them with the right surgeons and medical professionals needed to get your journey underway,” said Dr do Vale.

“The process for surgery is also onerous and specialists need to sit on a panel to discuss the merits of performing surgery. This is time-consuming and many medical practitioners either have little of it or are not interested in this particular field meaning the run-up to having surgery is arduous and tiresome for the transgender community.”

Dr Do Vale also pointed out that many private doctors may be under-educated or misinformed when it comes to LGBTQI+ related health issues and requests.  She quoted an example given of someone who went to his childhood doctor for a prescription for PrEP (daily medication that helps prevent the contraction of HIV).

“He refused to give the patient the pill, telling him, instead, that he should simply be using a condom and having safe sex. It’s the kind of moral judgement that patients do not need,” Dr do Vale said.

The clinic is a private healthcare provider and the fees are dependent on which service is being used. QWC is also a cash-based practice; the client settles their bill after their consultation and then will have to claim back from their medical aid.

While the launch of QWC is a welcome development, the desperate need remains for these kinds of queer-inclusive services to be offered across South Africa to all LGBTQI+ citizens, including those who cannot pay private healthcare rates.

To make an appointment for the QWC clinic, please call 083 675 7999, visit the website or email info@qwc.health.

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