“‘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.
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).
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).
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.”
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).
“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.
“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 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).
“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.”