Thursday, June 5, 2008

Homophobia continues to hamper HIV efforts globally

Craig McClure, Executive Director of the International AIDS Society, recently released the important statement below. Many thanks to the Global Forum on MSM and HIV for sending this out on their list.

As a chief goal of IRMA is to advance the research and development of safe, effective and acceptable rectal microbicides, we are very concerned about the pervasive, and lethal, stigma and homophobia that so many gay men and MSM face around the world. And we remain committed in the fight for the human rights of all vulnerable and disenfranchised people. To be sure, when we do have safe and effective rectal microbicides, it will not matter to millions of people who need them if gay men and MSM are denied access due to such flagrant human rights abuses as we continue to see in 85 countries.

It is an outrage that something like one in twenty gay/MSM in the world have access to prevention. This cannot stand!

Jim Pickett
-IRMA Chair


Homophobia continues to hamper HIV efforts globally
-Craig McClure, International AIDS Society

Mexico City/Geneva – (29 May 2008)

The International AIDS Society (IAS) today expressed its deep concern about continuing inflammatory and homophobic statements by political leaders in Uganda, Poland, and most recently by the President of The Gambia, and urged national and international leaders to reject homophobia and to take affirmative steps to reduce its impact on HIV.

One of the many lessons learned in the IAS' more than 20 years of leadership in HIV/AIDS, is that well-designed and appropriately targeted programs, implemented with the support of public health and political leadership, can effectively reduce HIV transmission in communities most at risk for HIV, including gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM).

A report issued at the end of 2007, led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the US, provides solid evidence that HIV among MSM continues to be widespread, and in many cases, is exacerbated by stigma, criminalization and the lack of appropriate services. The study indicates that, even in countries with low HIV prevalence in the general population, the epidemic among MSM is raging.

According to UNAIDS, fewer than one in 20 MSM around the world has access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care – and even fewer in low-income settings. Compared to the HIV testing rates of 63-85 percent seen among MSM in Australia, Europe, and North America, rates among MSM in much of Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe are often under 20 percent.

As it has been demonstrated in many different countries, reducing the social exclusion of gay and MSM communities through the promotion and protection of their human rights (including sexual rights and the right to health) is not only consistent with, but a prerequisite to, good public health. Once discriminatory policies are abolished and stigma and discrimination are confronted, country-based programs can be put in place to encourage gay men and MSM to stay free of HIV-infection, thus supporting national goals of reducing HIV burden.

However, efforts to replicate these successful strategies in more countries are hampered by recent homophobic statements made by political leaders from Uganda, Poland and The Gambia. Comments from these leaders, and other politicians who call for the arrest, detention, and even killing of homosexuals, are reprehensible.

In 2008, despite the accumulation of more than a quarter of a century of knowledge of successful HIV interventions, homophobia and the criminalization of homosexuality continue to be significant obstacles to the scale up HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. Though countries such as Cape Verde and South Africa have repealed their sodomy laws, and government officials in Kenya, Malawi, and Mauritius have begun discussions about the harmfulness of such laws, a resurgence of intolerance and homophobia, coupled with lack of action to repeal laws that violate the human rights of same sex practicing men and women, is posing a grave threat to the AIDS response in many countries.

Despite its much heralded success in promoting a public health response to HIV, Uganda continues to cling to a colonial-era sodomy law that punishes homosexual conduct with life imprisonment. And, Uganda is by no means the exception. Worldwide, more than 85 countries criminalize consensual homosexual conduct. Such laws give governments a pretext to invade people's private lives and deny them essential human rights: to live in peace and in health.

The XVII International AIDS Conference, to be held in Mexico City from 3-8 August 2008, will highlight successful work with MSM in several Latin American countries. The experience from Latin America, as well as from other parts of the world, can provide invaluable guidance to leaders from other middle- and low-income countries in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. [IRMA is presenting "Making Anal Sex Safer for MSM in the Developing World" at the conference.]

The very high proportion of MSM in Latin America who, over the past 25 years, became infected with HIV, developed AIDS and later died can only be described as catastrophic. But, in the past decade, in a growing number of countries throughout the region, there have been positive responses that continue to serve as shining examples to the rest of the world. If national and world leaders are serious about curbing the epidemic, programmes that bridge across sexual orientation, that protect public health, and transform stereotypes and prejudices must be a first line priority.

"Homophobia – whether propagated by government leaders, enforced by outdated laws, or perpetuated through stigma and discrimination – continues to fuel this epidemic, and should therefore be the number one enemy of those who are serious about ending this global tragedy," said Dr. Pedro Cahn, IAS President, AIDS 2008 Co-Chair and President of Fundación Huésped in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

With an international membership of more than 10,000, the International AIDS Society is the world's leading independent association of HIV professionals.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...