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U.N.-Backed Meeting In Bangkok Will Examine How Legal Barriers In Asia Hamper Fight Against HIV/AIDS

“Legal barriers are obstructing the fight against HIV/AIDS in the Asia, where 19 nations outlaw same-sex relations and 29 countries criminalize prostitution, United Nations experts said Wednesday,” on the eve of the Global Commission of HIV and the Law meeting in Bangkok, Deutsche Presse-Agentur/M&C reports (2/16).

“In the Asia-Pacific region, and across the world, there are too many examples of countries with laws, policies and practices that punish, rather than protect, people in need of HIV services,” UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe said, according to U.N. News Centre. “Where the law does not advance justice, it stalls progress. Advancing human rights and gender equity would not only be a triumph for the AIDS response, but for human development as a whole,” he added.

Sidibe will be among the participants at the commission meeting, “where policymakers and community advocates will join experts from the Global Commission on HIV and the Law for the first in a series of regional dialogue meetings to be held across the world,” U.N. News Centre writes.

“The Global Commission on HIV and the Law is an independent body comprising some of the world’s most respected legal, human rights and HIV leaders,” according to a UNAIDS press release. “At this week’s dialogue, approximately 150 participants from 22 countries will discuss and debate region-wide experiences of restrictive and enabling legal and social environments faced by key populations in the Asia-Pacific region, including people living with HIV,” the release explains (2/16).

VOA News notes that among countries in the Asia-Pacific region, 16 restrict travel for people living with HIV/AIDS. “Many Asian nations also … punish drug addicts rather than focusing on sex education and drug treatment,” the news service writes.

The article notes conditions in Thailand, as described by Sidibe, “where prostitution is illegal but tolerated, HIV infections among sex workers doubled in the past five years,” according to VOA News. The article includes quotes by Jon Ungphakorn, a former Thai senator and AIDS advocate (Schearf, 2/16).

“The law and its application can have a profound impact on the lives of people, especially those who are marginalized and disempowered,” U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark said, U.N. News Centre writes. “The law is a powerful instrument to challenge stigma, promote public health, and protect human rights. We have much to learn from the positive and negative experiences in this region on the interactions between the law, legislative reform, law enforcement practices, and public health responses,” she added.

U.N. News Centre also quotes Michael Kirby, commissioner and co-chair of the Commission’s Technical Advisory Group, who said: “The effectiveness of the HIV response will depend not just on the scale up of HIV prevention, treatment and care, but on whether the legal and social environment support or hinder programmes for those who are most vulnerable” (2/16).

China’s Government Vows To Ramp Up Fight Against HIV/AIDS

Also on Wednesday, China’s cabinet issued a statement warning of the high rates of HIV/AIDS in some regions of the country and calling for better HIV prevention and treatment, Agence France-Presse reports.

“The statement did not specify which areas of the country were particularly affected,” the news service writes. Chinese Authorities estimate “740,000 people have HIV/AIDS in the country, out of a total population of 1.3 billion” – a number most health advocates believe underestimates the scope of the problem in the country, AFP writes (2/16).

“‘AIDS prevention work is a complex and long-term task,’ the central government said in a statement on its website,” Reuters writes. China will “take further measures, step up work, and fight to ensure that by 2015 the rapid rise in cases in key areas and among key groups is basically controlled, so that by 2020 the virus is bought under fairly good control nationally,” according to the website, the news service adds.

Reuters describes the Chinese government’s plans to “step up information campaigns and make condoms for widely available in public areas, though not ease up on efforts to crack down on prostitution,” and promote HIV testing. The article notes that while China was “initially … slow to acknowledge the threat [of HIV/AIDS] … [it] has stepped up the fight against HIV/AIDS in recent years, and senior leaders have appeared in the media meeting AIDS patients in an effort to tackle widespread stigma and discrimination” (2/16).

AFP adds: “The State Council called on local governments across the country to protect the legal rights of HIV carriers and AIDS patients” (2/16).

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