African Leaders Should 'Take Action' To Implement Human-Rights Based Laws, Policies To Enhance HIV Response

Noting the release of a report (.pdf) from the Global Commission on HIV and the Law showing that “punitive laws are standing in the way of effective AIDS responses,” Festus Mogae, former president of Botswana, and Stephen Lewis, co-director and co-founder of AIDS-Free World, both members of the commission, write in a health-e opinion piece, “We cannot hope for an HIV-free generation when we have laws that marginalize and punish those most vulnerable to the disease.” They state that certain laws and customs in Africa “undermine the ability of women to protect themselves” and marginalize sex workers and men who have sex with men (MSM).

“The time has come for African leaders to take action against bad laws that stifle our HIV response,” Mogae and Lewis write, continuing, “We must challenge societal values rooted in fear and prejudice and implement laws based on human rights and sound public health.” Though “[c]hange will not come easy,” it “is essential if we hope to slow the spread of HIV,” they state, noting several examples of African leaders who have made efforts to decriminalize same-sex sexual acts and implement human-rights based policies for sex workers. “Leaders … across Africa must embrace change and follow these examples,” they write, concluding, “Evidence-based, humane HIV responses will not only help shield us from HIV, they will also help build a more prosperous African continent” (7/9).