Bad laws, stigma, negating gains in HIV/Aids fight, the report indicates

Discrimination against vulnerable and marginalized communities is hampering global efforts aimed at tackling the HIV-Aids epidemic.

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law says: “Bad laws and discrimination undermines AIDS response.”

The report was published in the sidelines of the recent biannual global AIDS conference held in Amsterdam, Netherlands. 

In 2012, the Commission highlighted how laws stand in the way of progress on AIDS. It also recommended how to institutionalize laws and policies that promote human rights and health.

“Progress on tackling the AIDS epidemic shows that when we work together we can save lives and empower those at risk,” said Mandeep Dhaliwal, the Director of Health and HIV at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

The new report warns that unless governments get serious about tackling bad laws, the overall AIDS response will continue to be undermined.

For the past six years, the Global Commission has made clear how marginalized groups are continually left behind in the global HIV-Aids response.

Discrimination and violence

Homosexuals, drug addicts, transgender and sex workers face stigma, discrimination and violence that prevents their ability to receive care, and LGBT populations are still under attack in many countries around the world.

The report says young women and adolescent girls are also uniquely affected by HIV and are not receiving adequate care.

In 2015, adolescent girls and young women comprised 60 percent of those aged 15-24 years living with HIV and almost the same percentage of new HIV infections were among this cohort.

“Global politics are changing, and repressive laws and policies are on the rise,” said MichaelKirby, former Justiceof the HighCourt ofAustralia.

Kirby added that in the recent years, political trends have negatively impacted the global HIV response and civic space has shrunk, limiting migrant’s access to health care.

“The fight against HIV, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis will only be won if civil society is empowered and able to provide services, mobilize for justice and hold governments accountable,” adds the ground breaking report.

“In the wake of the ongoing global refugee crisis, borders have tightened and access to health services has been restricted for millions of migrants – exactly the opposite of what is needed,” said Dr. Shereen El Feki, Vice-Chair of the Commission.

Feki adds: “Condemning people who have left their homes to seek safety strips them of their human rights and in the process increases their vulnerability to HIV and its co-infections.”

The vice chair adds that refugees and asylum seekers are often at high risk of HIV and overlapping infections like tuberculosis, but harsh laws restrict health care access.

“Laws must change to ensure that everyone, no matter where they are from, can receive quality health services,” he adds.

The report further states that the world is also still off track in funding responses to HIV, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis.

Declining donor funding

In 2015 – the same year that countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its pledge to leave no one behind, donor funding for AIDS fell by 13 percent. Sadly, the small uptick in donor funding for HIV in 2017 is at best an anomaly. 

Despite these challenges, the report says that UNDP together with its UN and civil society partners have helped 89 countriesrevise their laws to protect people’s health and rights since 2012.

The Commission boasts of the successes it has achieved since 2012 that includes HIVcriminalizationlaws that havebeen repealedin Kenya, Ghana, Greece, Honduras, Malawi, Mongolia, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and at least two US states.

It further adds that leaders are taking steps to address gender inequalities to bolster the rights of women and girls who are disproportionately affected by HIV.

The commission cites Tunisia that recently passed a law to end violence against women in public and private life, and Jordan and Lebanon have strengthened legislation on marital rape.

It further adds that access to health care is being prioritized with key emphasis on emerging illnesses that target people vulnerable to HIV.

A court ruling in India led the Indian Government to change its policy on who is eligible for tuberculosis treatment.

According to the commission, Governments like Canada, Colombia, Jamaica, Norway and Uruguay are taking stepsto protect the rights of vulnerablegroups.

The commission calls on governments and leaders around the world to institute effective laws and policies that protect and promote the rights of people affected by HIV and its co-infections.

Since 2012, there have been positive changes in transforming laws and policies, and advancements in science that make it possible to further accelerate progress.

“The future will be determined by legal environments that drive universal health and human dignity,” adds the report.

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