“Bangladesh has shown low HIV prevalence rates so far but may be silently moving towards an epidemic, say experts pointing to underreporting and poor monitoring for the virus in the general population,” Inter Press Service reports. “Professionals and volunteers working in the HIV/AIDS field say there is no room for complacency and that Bangladesh may well be on the brink of an epidemic, going by continuing high levels of STDs alone,” the news service writes.
Uganda Releases Strategy To Reduce HIV Infections; Activists Question Country's Ability To Meet Goals
“In response to rising HIV prevalence, Uganda’s government has announced a strategy to reduce new HIV infections by up to 30 percent by 2015, but activists have cast doubt on its ability to achieve this ambitious goal,” PlusNews reports. “In August, the Uganda AIDS Commission (UAC) released a revised National HIV Prevention Strategy aimed at ‘increasing the adoption of safer sexual behavior and reduction of risk-taking behavior, attaining critical coverage of effective HIV prevention service, creating a sustainable enabling environment that mitigates the underlying structural drivers of the epidemic, re-engaging leadership and energizing coordination of HIV prevention, and improving strategic information on HIV prevention,’” the news service writes. “The Ministry of Health also plans to improve the quality and coverage of HIV counseling and testing, increase condom use, fast-track the rollout of safe male circumcision to reach 4.2 million men by 2015, expand antiretroviral treatment as HIV prevention, and increase the coverage of prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services from 52 percent to 75 percent,” PlusNews notes.
A Lancet editorial discusses the agenda of the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) in Washington last month and asks how the success of the conference will be judged at the XX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014), to be held in Melbourne, Australia. “The return of the conference to the U.S. after 22 years, [was not only] a focus for celebration, but also provided a platform for vocal objection to the ban on injecting drug users and sex workers from entering the U.S.,” the editorial states, adding that “the absence of these groups from the meeting is rightly seen by many as a hindrance to developing approaches to combat the epidemic in regions where the disease is concentrated in these populations.”
“More than 100 million condoms will be distributed annually to sex workers, men who have sex with men, and other groups vulnerable to HIV as part of a new five-year program to be run by the Ethiopian government and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR),” PlusNews reports. “Dubbed MULU, the Amharic word for comprehensive, the $70 million program — implemented by the NGOs Population Services International and World Learning — will also target day laborers in the booming construction industry, migrant workers and their partners,” the news service notes.
“The health of millions of indigenous people across Asia is at risk, experts say, as lack of recognition of their legal status hinders data collection, making their medical problems invisible in most national health surveys,” IRIN reports. “Indigenous peoples — defined by the U.N. as people with ancestral ties to a geographical region who retain ‘distinct characteristics’ from other parts of the population — rank disproportionately high in most indicators of poor health, according to the U.N. Secretariat Department of Economic and Social Affairs,” the news service adds.
“‘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.
“[D]isappointingly, one group that will be absent [from the XIX International AIDS Conference next week] due to U.S. travel restrictions is sex workers,” a Lancet editorial states. “Sex workers have been extremely neglected as a population in the global response to HIV/AIDS, despite their substantially heightened risk of HIV infection and propensity to transmit new infections into general populations,” the editorial continues, adding, “Yet global funding allocations have been inadequate or restricted policies have been applied, such as the U.S. anti-prostitution pledge, which has greatly limited research and the response to HIV in sex workers. Furthermore, the conflation of sex work with human trafficking, and the disregard of sex work as work, has meant that sex workers’ rights have not been properly recognized.”
The Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog reports on a letter [.pdf] sent by 12 organizations and institutions to U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby, detailing the ways a U.S. global AIDS blueprint, proposed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the XIX International AIDS Conference in July, can address the concerns of key populations, such as injection drug users and men who have sex with men. The letter is signed by representatives of Johns Hopkins University, amfAR: The Foundation for AIDS Research, the Open Society Foundations, ACT V: The End of AIDS, and others, the blog notes and discusses the letter in detail (Barton, 10/8). The PSI “Impact” blog summarizes a different letter sent by the Global AIDS Policy Partnership (GAPP), comprising 27 organizations, to Goosby addressing the blueprint. According to the blog, “We believe ‘[t]he Blueprint should be designed to leverage greater global leadership and guide U.S. interaction with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and other multilateral and international stakeholders’” (10/2).
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.
“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).