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U.N. Says Asia Pacific Region Making Strides Against HIV/AIDS, Must Address Social And Legal Barriers To Treatment, Prevention

The U.N. Economic and Social Commission for the Asia Pacific (ESCAP) on Monday in Bangkok “opened a three-day meeting lauding impressive gains in recent years in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” but the body cautioned “there are still legal and social barriers that significantly set back eradication efforts,” VOA News reports. U.N. ESCAP Executive Secretary Noeleen Heyzer “note[d] the gains are uneven and there are still gaps in the goal of universal access to HIV treatment,” the news service writes.

NewsOne Examines HIV In Caribbean

NewsOne examines HIV in the Caribbean, where one percent of the population is infected with the virus, “small in comparison to numbers found in the global scheme but significant enough to distinguish it as the second-highest region with HIV/AIDS outside of sub-Saharan Africa.” According to the article, HIV is spread primarily among populations at high risk for the disease, including sex workers, men who have sex with men, and people who use injection drugs.

In Order To End AIDS, Reduce Stigma Of Marginalized Groups And Accelerate HIV Cure Research

“‘Getting to Zero’ has been the slogan for World AIDS Day (Dec. 1) since 2011 and will remain so through until 2015, coinciding with the Millennium Development Goal target of halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS,” Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, director of the Regulation of Retroviral Infections Unit at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, and Adeeba Kamarulzaman, director of the Center of Excellence for Research in AIDS and dean of the Faculty of Medicine at University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, write in a New York Times opinion piece. “This offers a starting point for some more sanguine reflection on how, amid generalized talk of zeros, targets and goals, we can so easily lose sight of the extraordinary barriers that prevent them being reached in the first place,” they continue.

UNAIDS Report Shows Progress Due To ‘Unprecedented Acceleration’ In Global AIDS Response

UNAIDS’ new World AIDS Day report: Results, released on Tuesday, “shows that unprecedented acceleration in the AIDS response is producing results for people,” according to a UNAIDS press release. Between 2001 and 2011, “a more than 50 percent reduction in the rate of new HIV infections has been achieved across 25 low- and middle-income countries — more than half in Africa, the region most affected by HIV,” the press release states, adding, “In addition to welcome results in HIV prevention, sub-Saharan Africa has reduced AIDS-related deaths by one third in the last six years and increased the number of people on antiretroviral treatment by 59 percent in the last two years alone.” According to the press release, “The area where perhaps most progress is being made is in reducing new HIV infections in children,” and the number of AIDS-related deaths has dropped because of increased access to antiretroviral treatment.

Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi Accepts Role As UNAIDS Ambassador

“Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has accepted a new role with [UNAIDS] to advance efforts to eliminate stigma and discrimination against those affected by the epidemic,” the U.N. News Centre reports. “She accepted the invitation to serve as Global Advocate for Zero Discrimination during a recent meeting with UNAIDS’ Executive Director Michel Sidibe at her residence in Myanmar’s capital, Nay Pyi Taw,” the news service notes. “It is a great honor to be chosen as a champion for people who live on the fringes of society and struggle every day to maintain their dignity and basic human rights. I would like to be the voice of the voiceless,” Suu Kyi, who is a member of parliament in Myanmar, said, according to the news service (11/20). In a statement, Sidibe said, “From small villages to big cities, from Africa to Asia, people are talking about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi … She is inspirational,” according to Agence France-Presse (11/20).

Advocates In Sri Lanka Call For Change To Laws That Criminalize, Stigmatize Sex Work, Same-Sex Relationships

“Sri Lanka has long enjoyed a low 0.1 percent HIV prevalence but, as the number of fresh infections rises steadily, experts are calling for a change in the country’s archaic laws that make sex work illegal and criminalizes homosexual activity,” Inter Press Service reports. “In the first quarter of the current year there were 40 new cases of HIV compared to 32 and 27 in the first quarters of 2011 and 2010 respectively, according to the National STD/AIDS Control Programme (NSACP),” the news service notes, adding “an estimated 41,000 commercial sex workers (CSWs) and 30,000 men who have sex with men (MSMs)” live in Sri Lanka. “‘In the past two years new infections are seen to be rising among those below 24 years, and 50 percent of them are MSMs,’ says NSACP director Nimal Edirisinghe,” IPS writes.

NPR Series Examines Global Progress Against AIDS

In a special series called “AIDS: A Turning Point,” NPR reports on global progress against HIV/AIDS ahead of the AIDS 2012 conference taking place in Washington, D.C., this month. As part of the series, NPR’s “Morning Edition” examines Botswana’s response to the epidemic, writing, “A decade ago, Botswana was facing a national crisis as AIDS appeared on the verge of decimating the country’s adult population. Now, Botswana provides free, life-saving AIDS drugs to almost all of its citizens who need them.” According to the show, “Part of the reason Botswana’s HIV treatment program has been effective is that the country moved relatively quickly to address the epidemic” and “over the course of the epidemic, Botswana has steadily increased its own spending on HIV” (7/9).

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).

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).