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Conference Seeks Decriminalization Of Homosexuality, Prostitution

A four-day meeting of leading health experts was convened seeking to repeal many outdated laws criminalizing prostitution and homosexuality as an effort to secure medical treatment for people who are at risk or suffering from HIV/AIDS. Fear, stigmatisation, and discrimination have plagued high-risk groups since the 1980s and little has changed in the last 20 years. Experts agree that the criminalisation of sex work, illicit drug use and sex between men seriously hamper prevention and support efforts. no less than social change is needed to strengthen the potency of the medical gains made in coping with the pandemic. Addressing the human rights deficit will be the next big fight in AIDS/HIV prevention work.

A four-day meeting of leading health experts on Monday will seek to repeal many outdated laws criminalizing prostitution and homosexuality as an effort to secure medical treatment for people who are at risk or suffering from HIV/AIDS, Reuters reported.

Prasada Rao, director of the UNAIDS Asia Pacific regional support team, said on the margins of an HIV/AIDS conference that the main challenge is overcoming the whole issue of stigma and discrimination and repealing many countries outdated laws and legislation on such issues.

While progress has been made in research and getting people treated for AIDS, huge challenges lie ahead and much more needs to be done, according to Rao and a panel of other experts.

Rao told the conference that the AIDS movement’s progress is not meaningful if they don't address the stigma and discrimination in their region.

“Young children, whether infected themselves or have family members who are infected, are still being evicted from schools. This must change. Without this, progress is not possible," he said.

The world saw an increase of fear and strong waves of prejudice against high-risk groups such as gay and bisexual men and prostitutes after HIV/AIDS was first identified in the early 1980s. Experts say little appears to have changed after more than 20 years.

Experts around the world who are dedicated to helping these people agree that criminalization of behavior involving illicit drug use, sex work and sex between men is seriously hampering effective prevention and support programs.

Loretta Wong, who heads the Hong Kong-based help group AIDS Concern, said gay men are among the groups that need the most outreach support.

“But if their behavior is criminalized, they are not going to come to you and say hey I need help. This is a classic case of a clash between public health and public security," she said.

Wong cautioned that if they don't get access to services and treatment, their health can’t be monitored and they wont get tested.

“They will instead be driven underground and there will be the risk of infections increasing,” she added.

Experts said the conference also heard strong calls for more access to treatment, as women and children were particularly left out of the loop.

David Cooper, professor of medicine and director at the National Center in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research in Sydney, said efforts are supposed to be achieving universal access by 2010, but added they are not likely to reach treatment goals at the current rate.

While some 3 million people by the end of 2007 were receiving drugs to control HIV (nearly 950,000 more compared with the end of 2006) only 31 percent of people who were in need of drugs were getting them.

Children and pregnant women in low and middle-income countries need better and adequate drugs, Cooper said.

He added that there is incontrovertible new evidence that treating women with antiretroviral therapy in pregnancy and during their breastfeeding period will almost eliminate HIV infection in their infants.

"But we are not getting access to these women and we are not treating them with proper antiretroviral therapy. We are just giving them single-dose drugs," Cooper said.

Source: redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports