“Abolish laws that fuel HIV transmission,” say the IFRC and Alliance

Published: 9 June 2011

Governments must abolish laws which undermine human rights and prevent access to life-saving services. The call comes from two of the world’s biggest humanitarian and AIDS organizations on the eve of the United Nations General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS  

09 June 2011, Geneva — The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), representing 186 National Societies, and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance that works with over 2,000 community organisations worldwide, say the people most vulnerable to HIV need concrete action for universal access to prevention, treatment and care.

 “We are advocating specifically for people whose voices are rarely heard,” says Bekele Geleta, the IFRC’s Secretary General. “Sex workers, transgender people, men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs. They often face repressive laws which include imprisonment, violence and harassment and they struggle to access health services.”

 The Alliance’s Executive Director Alvaro Bermejo explains that outdated prejudices, often enshrined in law, serve to drive those most at risk underground, making it difficult to reach them with HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. “We all support UNAIDS zero strategy – zero new infections, zero AIDS related deaths and zero discrimination – but this can’t happen unless stigmatising laws are dealt with and supportive legal and policy environments are in place,” he says.

Even as the UN meets, in some countries lawmakers are debating controversial laws, that if enacted would oblige women to go public if tested positive for HIV and also criminalize homosexuality seriously undermining their countries national HIV response.

Civil society has the capacity to empower most at risk populations to mobilize communities so that they can access HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.  Governments and partners must capitalize on this to effectively respond to HIV by providing environments free of stigma, discrimination and violation of human rights. 

"The HIV/AIDS Alliance and IFRC are right to highlight the impact of repressive laws, harassment and human rights abuses on those most vulnerable to HIV.  If the world is to maintain progress against the epidemic, we have to get better at reaching those most at risk. The UK will continue to be a strong voice for those most vulnerable to HIV during the important discussions in the UN this week," commented Stephen O’Brien, UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development.
Ten years have passed since the first UN General Assembly Special Session on AIDS and much progress has been made: more than six million people now receive life-saving treatment. But there are still over ten million who need treatment and can’t get it. For every person starting treatment, two others become infected.
Worldwide, only 60 per cent of sex workers have access to condoms and HIV testing. More than 80 per cent of countries treat the 15.9 million injecting drug users as criminals, driving a majority of them - including the three million infected with HIV - underground.

Globally, there is a pattern of under-investment in HIV prevention. Countries report spending less than five per cent of their HIV budget on HIV prevention services and programmes targeted at populations at the highest risk of HIV.
Healthcare systems still fail men who have sex with men, drug users, sex workers and some ethnic minorities because of lingering prejudices against them and against HIV in general.

Both organizations call upon governments to review their laws and policies and remove legal, social and economic barriers that prevent inequitable access to health care and block access to vital HIV services.
Don’t stop the progress now. Laws and policies need to help stop HIV transmission, not help to spread it.

According to UNAIDS
• 67 per cent of countries report “law and regulations that present obstacles for vulnerable sub-populations”
• 79 countries criminalize homosexual sex; six impose death penalty for consensual sex between same sex partners
• 47 countries have HIV related travel restrictions
• 56 have specific laws criminalizing HIV transmission
For more information, or to set up interviews, please contact:

In Geneva, Switzerland:
• Sadia Kaenzig, IFRC, Senior adviser for health communications, +41 79 217 33 86, sadia.kaenzig@ifrc.org

In Brighton, UK:
• Sarah West, International HIV/AIDS Alliance, Media Manager, +44 (0)1273 718949/ 07590358391, swest@aidsalliance.org