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.”
“[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.