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AIDS 2012 Speakers Warn Vulnerable Populations Will Miss Out On HIV Prevention Advances

“Excitement about turning the tide in the fight against HIV is being tempered by researchers who worry some of the most vulnerable populations will miss out on medical advances,” delegates of the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) heard at Thursday’s plenary session, VOA News reports (Seldin, 7/26). Ugandan physician Paul Semugoma, who works with homosexual and transgender patients, told the session that one of the biggest challenges is reaching people at risk of HIV infection with prevention information, especially when stigma and discrimination are prevalent, VOA says in another article (7/26). “Semugoma says too many physicians fail to ask their patients about their sexual histories in a misguided effort not to discriminate,” VOA writes (7/26). Researcher Cheryl Overs of Australia’s Monash University spoke about how discrimination and stigma hinder the AIDS response among sex workers, VOA reports in yet another article (Seldin, 7/26). Speaking about new HIV prevention methods, Overs said, “The risk to sex workers of all genders will be enormous if condoms are replaced by partially effective HIV methods that do not protect against STIs [i.e., sexually transmitted infections] or unwanted pregnancies,” according to the news service.

RECENT RELEASE: AIDS Response Should Be 'Instrument For Social Justice'

“It is outrageous that, in 2012, when we have everything we need to beat AIDS, we are still fighting prejudice, stigma, and exclusion,” UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe writes on the Human Rights and HIV/AIDS “Now More Than Ever” blog, adding, “It is my daily reminder that the AIDS response is not just about an epidemic; the AIDS response is, has been, and must be, an instrument to fight for social justice.” He concludes, “[O]ur common aspiration is clear: a world where no one gets infected with a preventable virus, no one dies of a treatable disease, and no one faces discrimination for a health condition. We have tools to stop HIV transmission, deaths and discrimination. Human rights demand that we deliver these tools to every community and person affected. By doing so, we help to transform societies into the inclusive places they should be” (7/25).

AIDS Activists March In Washington, India To Protest Marginalization Of Sex Workers, Drug Users

“AIDS activists gathering in Washington, D.C., and Kolkata, India, this week have denounced conditions attached to U.S. global AIDS funding, which they say have damaged the response to the epidemic by further marginalizing sex workers — among those hardest hit” by the epidemic, the Guardian reports. “International organizations that receive funds through [PEPFAR] must sign an ‘anti-prostitution pledge’ prohibiting them from doing anything that could be perceived as supporting sex work,” the news service notes. According to the Guardian, “U.S. organizations that receive PEPFAR money are no longer bound by the pledge, after successfully taking the government to court on the basis that the conditions attached to funding violate first amendment rights,” but “organizations outside the U.S. are still required to sign it” (Provost, 7/25).

OPINION: U.S. Should Reconsider Ban On Funding Needle-Exchange Programs

Noting that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s special cabinet committee on AIDS in 1986 “decided there should be clean needle exchanges for injecting drug users (IDUs) to prevent the spread of HIV,” Norman Fowler, a member of the British House of Lords and former British health secretary, writes in The Hill’s “Congress Blog,” There is no question that needle exchanges and drug substitution have reduced HIV: only two percent of new infections in Britain now come through that route.” In addition, “The policy has neither encouraged drug taking nor crime. Similar reports come from other nations that have adopted this approach,” he says, continuing, “Tragically, not all nations have followed such a lead,” including the U.S. and the Ukraine. Fowler adds, “If the U.S. was to reconsider [its recently reinstated] ban [on funding domestic and international needle exchanges] and recognize that without needle-exchange programs it is impossible to provide full protection from the spread of HIV and the death and suffering that goes with it, it would send a message around the world” (7/20).

Punitive Laws, Human Rights Violations Inhibiting Global AIDS Response, Global Commission On HIV And Law Report Says

“Punitive laws and human rights abuses are costing lives, wasting money, and stifling the global AIDS response,” according to a report (.pdf) released Monday by the independent Global Commission on HIV and the Law, which estimated the number of new HIV infections worldwide could be halved from 2.1 million to 1.2 million annually with changes in law and public policy, BMJ reports (Roehr, 7/9). The report, “based on 18 months of extensive research and analysis, as well as first-hand accounts from more than 1,000 people in 140 countries,” “finds evidence that governments in every region of the world have wasted the potential of legal systems in the fight against HIV,” according to the U.N. News Centre. The commission comprises “former heads of state and leading legal, human rights and HIV experts, and [is] supported by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) on behalf of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS),” the news service notes (7/9).

African Leaders Should 'Take Action' To Implement Human-Rights Based Laws, Policies To Enhance HIV Response

Noting the release of a report (.pdf) from the Global Commission on HIV and the Law showing that “punitive laws are standing in the way of effective AIDS responses,” Festus Mogae, former president of Botswana, and Stephen Lewis, co-director and co-founder of AIDS-Free World, both members of the commission, write in a health-e opinion piece, “We cannot hope for an HIV-free generation when we have laws that marginalize and punish those most vulnerable to the disease.” They state that certain laws and customs in Africa “undermine the ability of women to protect themselves” and marginalize sex workers and men who have sex with men (MSM).

Kenya To Distribute Free Syringes, Needles To People Who Use Injection Drugs

“The Kenyan government will begin distributing free syringes and needles to more than 50,000 [injection] drug users (IDUs) across the country in the next month,” PlusNews reports, adding, “Policy-makers and experts said the decision was reached following concerns over the spread of HIV and other blood-borne illnesses through injection drug use.” “[Injection] drug use is responsible for close to four percent of national HIV infections and 17 percent of new infections in Coast Province annually, according to government statistics,” according to the news service. “The government aims to distribute some eight million needles and syringes to drug users countrywide once the program is rolled out and will also encourage HIV testing, provide antiretroviral drugs, condoms, and medication for tuberculosis, the most commonly found co-infection with HIV” the news service writes (6/7).

U.S. Delegation Participates In Commission On Narcotic Drugs

In this post in the State Department’s “DipNote” blog, Alyce Ahn, a foreign affairs officer in the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) Office of Anticrime Programs, writes about the U.S. delegation’s participation last week in the 55th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). She outlines the delegation’s work at the conference, concluding, “We’re already beginning to see operational results from the CND. One country noted that, in response to a resolution, it plans to look into using a life-saving drug that can help prevent deaths from overdose. For its part, the United States looks forward to working with other states, as well as [the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)], in various joint projects and regional counter-narcotics initiatives addressed in the resolutions” (3/19).

Cuts To Health Budget Lead To Increases In HIV/AIDS, Malaria, TB Incidence In Greece

“The savage cuts to Greece’s health service budget have led to a sharp rise in HIV/AIDS and malaria in the beleaguered nation, said a leading aid organization on Thursday,” the Guardian’s “News Blog” reports. “The incidence of HIV/AIDS among intravenous drug users in central Athens soared by 1,250 percent in the first 10 months of 2011 compared with the same period the previous year, according to” Reveka Papadopoulos, “the head of Medecins Sans Frontieres [MSF] Greece, while malaria is becoming endemic in the south for the first time since … the 1970s,” the blog notes.

Russia Should Abandon ‘Zero-Tolerance’ Approach To Drug Use And Implement Proven Prevention Strategies

Why have effective, “simple tools such as Medication Assisted Therapy (methadone, buprenorphine) and clean needle-exchange services” — methods that are “very effective in decreasing drug abuse and reducing risk of infection with HIV, hepatitis C and other diseases” – “had so little impact on the policies and programs of the Russian Federation?” Bertrand Audoin, executive director of the International AIDS Society, and Chris Beyrer, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, write in this New York Times opinion piece. With an “estimated number of injecting drug users [at] 1.8 million, and the estimated number of opiate users exceed[ing] 1.6 million,” and more than one million people living with HIV, “Russia now accounts for two thirds of the Eastern Europe and Central Asian HIV epidemic, the fastest growing in the world,” they write.

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