“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.”
“[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.”
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.”
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
More Research Needed Into How Transgender Persons In Asia, Pacific Affected By HIV, Stigma, Report Says
A report released Thursday in Bangkok by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN) says more research needs to be conducted to determine the extent to which transgender persons in Asia and the Pacific are affected by HIV, are socially ostracized, and lack fundamental rights, including access to basic health care, a UNDP press release reports. The report, released to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, is “a comprehensive review of material gathered from across the region over the past 12 years” and “emphasizes that inclusive research, designed and implemented in partnership with the transgender community, is critical to enable governments, community-based organizations and supporting organizations to enhance HIV and sexual health care services specific to the needs of transgender people, and foster action by governments to adopt more socially equitable policies and practices to protect their rights,” according to the press release (5/17).
“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.