Agenda Item 7 – Update on Actions to Reduce Stigma and Discrimination in All its Forms
Delivered by Ainsley K. Reid, Latin America and the Caribbean NGO Delegate
I am from the Latin and Caribbean region where stigma and discrimination is affecting the lives of people for many reasons.
The workplace continues to be a key venue for HIV-related stigma and the resulting discrimination, concludes a journal article based partly on data from the NGO Delegation’s 2010 report on stigma and discrimination. Co-written by Laurel Sprague, Sara Simon (the NGO Delegation’s Communication Facility Focal Point) and Courtenay Sprague for the African Journal of AIDS Research (2011, 10(supplement): 311–324), “Employment discrimination and HIV stigma: survey results from civil society organisations and people living with HIV in Africa” presents the global and regional findings from the Delegation’s 2010 survey – which focused on identifying the extent and forms of HIV-related stigma and discrimination and the effects of this on individuals’ access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services – as well as country-specific findings based on pre-publication data from the ‘People Living with HIV (PLHIV) Stigma Index’ for Kenya and Zambia.
Today is the launch of the much anticipated Global Commission on HIV and the Law report on how law and human rights can transform the global AIDS response with evidence-informed solutions for protecting the health and human rights of people affected by HIV. Over the past year and a half, the NGO Delegation has been posting about and has been involved in the regional consultations that have provided evidence for the report’s research.
The Report findings found that:
- In more than 60 countries, it is a crime to expose another person to or transmit HIV. More than 600 HIV-positive people across 24 countries have been convicted of such crimes. These laws and practices discourage people from seeking an HIV test and disclosing their status
- 78 countries criminalise same-sex sexual activity. These laws make it difficult to prevent HIV amongst those most vulnerable to infection.
- Even though they may provide harm reduction services informally, laws in some countries criminalise some aspects of proven harm reduction services for injecting drug users. In contrast, countries that legalise harm reduction services have almost completely stopped new HIV infections among injecting drug users.
- More than 100 countries criminalize some aspect of sex work. The legal environment in many countries exposes sex workers to violence and results in their economic and social exclusion. It also prevents them from accessing essential HIV prevention and care services.
- Laws and customs that dis-empower women and girls, from genital mutilation to denial of property rights, undermine their ability to negotiate safe sex and to protect themselves from HIV infection. 127 countries do not have legislation against marital rape.
- Laws and policies that deny young people access to sex education, harm reduction and reproductive and HIV services help spread HIV.
- Excessive intellectual property protections that hinder the production of low-cost medicines, especially second-generation treatments, impede access to treatment and prevention.
It concluded with dozens of recommendations on intellectual property, key populations, women, youth, discrimination and criminalization. One of the recommendations calls on countries not to enact laws or to repeal laws that explicitly criminalise HIV transmission, HIV exposure or failure to disclose HIV status. It also requests the UN Secretary General to “convene a neutral, high-level body to review and assess proposals and recommend a new intellectual property regime for pharmaceutical products”. You can read the complete list of recommendations in the full report.
In December 2011, the NGO Delegation submitted its own report that set out to understand the experiences of civil society around legal issues and HIV responses. Discussions with civil society aimed to understand the personal experiences of those involved, the common trends and difficulties encountered and the solutions needed in order to increase access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services.
As a Delegation, our decision not to bring forward the full scope of our recommendations in our NGO Report at the 29th PCB in December was in part due to the development of the report by the Commission on HIV and the Law. We saw this report as a key document to reinforce the correlation between the legal environment and access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.
It is disheartening that we have not seen the report document containing key recommendations on creating legal environments that enable access to all people living with and at risk for HIV, as it is so timely and relevant to our discussions.
The NGO Delegation, along with our diverse array of constituents, would have liked this board to be able to take forward UNAIDS’ own policy guidance calling for the repeal of HIV-specific laws that criminalize HIV non-disclosure, exposure or transmission.
Thank you to many of you in the Secretariat and the working group for the work and negotiations that went into the production of this document. Without taking away from this work and good intentions, the NGO Delegation must state its frustration with the process and development of these key issues since the last PCB.
We think the current report, while important to have and fully supported by our constituencies, only contributes to maintaining the status quo. Rather than moving forward to reach populations most at risk of transmitted HIV, we are stalled in our discussions. We will not be able to address HIV without addressing key populations, including gay men and other men who have sex with men and transgendered people, people who inject drugs, sex workers, as well as women and girls, youth, and prisoners.
The document does not fully reflect the richness of the thematic session held in December.
Since its creation on 13 February, 1340 supports have signed onto the Oslo Declaration on HIV Criminalisation. Prepared by civil society in Oslo, Norway, on the eve of the global High Level Policy Consultation on the Science and Law of the Criminalisation of HIV Non-disclosure, Exposure and Transmission, the declaration is an advocacy and policy statement against the overly-broad use of the criminal law to regulate and punish people living with HIV for behaviour that in any other circumstance would be considered lawful.
The PCB urges UNAIDS to intensify ongoing work with its partners to fight stigma, discriminatio n and marginalization, in order to reduce their impact, and encourage governments to secure the rights of vulnerable populations and people living with, and affected by, HIV/AIDS.