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U.S. Visa Policies Kept Sex Workers, Drug Users From Participating In AIDS 2012

The Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog examines how the “U.S. travel bans on people involved in sex work and people who have used illegal drugs … kept many of the people at highest risk from coming to the [XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012)]” in Washington, D.C., last month. “The result, observers said afterward, was a larger conference with fewer sex workers than had brought their first-hand experiences and concerns to Vienna and Mexico City,” according to the blog. Carlos Laudari, senior technical adviser for HIV AIDS prevention at Pathfinder, “and others said those in absentia were not the only ones disempowered; the loss of sex worker and drug user input on how to realize the goals of treatment as prevention, on barriers to funding, testing, health care access, and for that matter, on the difference between sex work and sex trafficking — commonly, and erroneously equated — weakened the dialogue and the action they were intended to inform,” the blog writes and quotes several other advocates (Barton, 8/8).

India To Host Parallel Conference For Those Who Can't Attend International AIDS Conference In U.S.

“When stakeholders from across the world converge at Washington next month to participate in the International AIDS Conference (IAC) to share their experience and evaluations and to influence both popular and official perceptions and practices for curbing HIV/AIDS, India will host a parallel event for those who cannot make it there,” the Hindu reports. “The event will be organized in Kolkata by Durbar Mahila Samanway Samiti (DMSS) — an umbrella organization of over 65,000 sex workers of West Bengal in collaboration with the Global Network of Sex Work Project (NSWP),” the newspaper adds.

UNDP Releases Report Examining Impact Of Laws Regarding Sex Work, Effectiveness Of HIV Response

The UNDP on Thursday released a report, titled “Sex Work and the Law,” which “examines 48 countries in Asia and the Pacific to assess laws, legal policies and law enforcement practices that affect the human rights of sex workers and impact on the effectiveness of HIV responses,” according to a UNDP press release. “Where sex work has been decriminalized, there is a greater chance for safer sex practices through occupational health and safety standards across the industry,” the press release states, noting, “The report describes countries that use punitive law enforcement practices, confiscate condoms as evidence of illegal conduct, require compulsory or coerced HIV testing, deny government services and certain rights to sex workers, and have compulsory detention centers”; “highlights current laws, policies and practices that are helpful to HIV responses”; and “highlights how significant advances in recognition of the rights of sex workers can occur even in contexts where the sex industry is illegal” (10/18).

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.

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).

Sex Workers Hold AIDS 2012 'Hub' Conference In Kolkata, India

“Hundreds of sex workers from around the world who said they were denied visas to attend an international AIDS conference in the United States began their own meeting in Kolkata on Saturday in protest,” Agence France-Presse reports. “Some 550 representatives of sex workers from India and 41 other countries were attending the seven-day event in the eastern Indian city, organizers said,” the news agency writes (Sil, 7/21). The International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) “return[ed] to American soil for the first time in more than 20 years, in recognition of President Barack Obama’s 2009 decision to lift the U.S. travel ban on people living with HIV,” the Guardian states, noting that “U.S. legislation still prohibits sex workers and drug users from entering the country.”

Combination Prevention Strategy Trials To Start Later This Year In Africa, GlobalPost Reports

As part of its “AIDS Turning Point” series, GlobalPost examines how the United States and its African partners are designing clinical trials at four African sites to test whether a combination of prevention methods and strategies — “notably the vaccine-like preventative effect on transmission when someone starts taking AIDS drugs, as well as the life-long protection afforded to many due to male circumcision” — could “put them on the road to a Holy Grail: the numbers of HIV infections tumbling down.”

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).

Also In Global Health News: Kenya Votes On Constitution; Global Wheat Prices Soar; HIV And TB In China; Female Condoms In India; Malaria Centers Receive Funding

As Kenya Votes For Constitution, Abortion And HIV Rights Issues Remain Kenyans “voted peacefully” Wednesday on a constitution that most were “expected to vote in favour” of, according to surveys, Reuters reports (8/4). Kenyan officials have supported the constitution but, VOA News reports, “issues of abortion, land, and Islamic courts”…