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Brazil, Cuba to provide free sex-change surgery

Brazilian and Cuban authorities are to provide free sex-change operations as part of their healthcare plans...

In Brazil, the Federal Medicine Council has approved sex-change operations since the late 1990s, but the procedure could only be conducted in the private healthcare system at a very high cost. The government will now begin paying for the operations, local media reported Friday, citing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao.

In communist Cuba, sex-change surgery was authorized for the first time, and it will be offered free of charge, sources at the National Centre for Sexual Education (Cenesex) told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa Friday.

The Brazilian minister announced that country's move late Thursday alongside Lula, as they opened the first National Conference of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transvestites and Transsexuals being held through Sunday in Brasilia.

Gomes Temporao said the move is in accordance with the government's homosexual rights policy.

'It is one more step towards the consolidation of that policy, in which Brazil is a world leader,' he noted.

Lula said the state's refusal to pay for such operations would amount to 'discrimination.'

'When you pay your taxes, nobody asks you which is your sexual option. Why discriminate against you when you freely choose what to do with your body?' Lula said.

Gomes Temporao said the surgery will initially be performed only in state university hospitals in large urban areas.

The move in Cuba was announced by a source at Cenesex, which is headed by Cuban President Raul Castro's daughter, sexologist Mariela Castro. It was said to be part of the framework of a programme for the 'integral' care of transsexuals.

The resolution by the Public Health Ministry is operational but has yet to be formally made public. The document was signed earlier this week by Public Health Minister Jose Ramon Balaguer, and stipulates the 'creation of a specific health centre for transsexual people,' the sources added.

Mariela Castro said recently that a 28-person waiting list for sex-change operations has already been approved in Cuba. The only instance of such surgery so far in Cuba was in 1988 and received so much criticism that the programme was called off.

Cuban specialists are currently preparing alongside Belgian colleagues, and it was not known when the surgery would start to be performed on the communist island, Mariela Castro said as she celebrated the International Day Against Homophobia last month.

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