HIV/AIDS Advocates Protest Stigma, Discrimination Ahead of AIDS Conference
HIV/AIDS advocates in Mexico City have begun protesting the problems of stigma, discrimination and a lack of access to antiretroviral drugs in Latin America ahead of next week's XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, Agence France-Presse reports (Rosenthal, Agence France-Presse, 7/29).
According to VOA News, 17 people at the conference are expected to lead discussions that address issues -- such as stigma and discrimination -- that discourage people from being tested and accessing treatment. South African Justice Edwin Cameron is scheduled to lead a plenary session about the criminalization of HIV-positive people in some countries, which is fueling stigma against people living with the virus, according to VOA News.
According to the South Africa Supreme Court of Appeals, 11 African countries -- including Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Uganda -- have laws in place to prosecute HIV-positive people who do not disclose their HIV status to their partners, even if they do not transmit the virus (Eagle, VOA News, 7/29). In addition, although most countries in Latin America have laws that prohibit HIV-associated discrimination, people who violate the laws rarely are prosecuted, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France Presse, 7/29).
Cameron said that such laws discourage people from being tested for HIV. "The point I will make at the conference is that those statutes, apart from their very broad and vague wording, are very bad for the central issue of the epidemic, which is getting treatment to people," Cameron said.
In addition, Adeeba Kamarulzaman, president of the Malaysian AIDS Council, is expected to host a discussion on legal obstacles to fighting the spread of HIV among injection drug users. Kamarulzaman said a lack of needle-exchange programs and methadone programs, as well as criminalization of injection drug use, are fueling the spread of HIV among IDUs and discouraging them from receiving HIV tests.
Pedro Cahn -- president of the International AIDS Society, which is convening the AIDS conference -- said the conference also will address criticism that efforts to increase HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment activities have taken away from efforts to build health systems in developing countries. Cahn said some people have claimed that the international community has put "too much money into the AIDS struggle" and is "weakening health care systems." Cahn said, "African health care systems were not OK before (the AIDS epidemic) and have become better after the opening of clinics," adding that the accusations are "absolutely not true."
Cahn added that advocates attending the AIDS conference likely will call for the integration of reproductive health services and treatment for tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections into HIV treatment programs. Advocates have said such efforts would help meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of providing universal access to HIV prevention and treatment by 2010 (VOA News, 7/29).
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