Human, Civil Rights Crucial to Prevention Efforts, U.S. Rep Says

Countries must protect human and civil rights as they move toward treating HIV and AIDS as a health issue, not a criminal matter, said world policymakers attending the 2011 U.N. High Level Meeting on AIDS.

Members of parliament and nongovernmental organizations from nearly 50 countries on Tuesday debated ways to improve policies in HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for communities most affected by the virus. People affected include women, IV drug users, sex workers, and men who have sex with men.

“The problem is, in most countries, the people who are the most vulnerable to HIV are the often the most marginalized – the ones whose behavior is criminalized by the law,” said Aleksandra Blagojevic, program officer of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. “How do you reach these people?”

Parliamentarians have important roles in the HIV response because they have the power to reform laws that criminalize behavior, such as drug use and prostitution, Blagojevic said.

“You deal with the disease,” said U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), one of the speakers during the parliamentary briefing. “You don’t put him in prison. That’s not the solution.”

Some parliamentarians were concerned about the sustainability of HIV/AIDS programs, especially if donor states cut back in the middle of a fiscal crisis, said McDermott.
“I hope that’s not what happens, but it’s not inconceivable that there will be less money this year than last year.”

McDermott would like to see more sources of funding for HIV/AIDS programs or, at the very least, to keep the programs running at their current levels. Money should be used to build more infrastructures and to train more health care professionals in developing countries, he said, adding that such measures to combat the epidemic have been overlooked.

“In building something in a country … we’ve not been so good in investing our money,” McDermott said. “A lot of this is driven by our own business interests.”
The answer lies in an AIDS vaccine, McDermott said, noting that another focus should be preventing mother-to-child transmission by increasing access to life-saving medications.

“We have the pharmaceuticals now,” McDermott said. “The question is: How do you get it to the patients?”

Not only do parliamentarians oversee the implementation of laws, but they can also encourage more open dialogue in their countries, which may help reduce the stigma associated with the virus, according to IPU’s Blagojevic.

“They can urge for more tolerance and support for people living with HIV,” Blagojevic said. “It is important for every country to look at its own laws.”

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UNITY AIDSNews

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