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    HomeHealthDecriminalizing HIV: Scientifically proven and morally correct

    Decriminalizing HIV: Scientifically proven and morally correct


    One hundred thirty-four. That’s the number of countries that at present criminalize or prosecute folks based mostly on normal prison legal guidelines of HIV transmission, non-disclosure, or publicity.

    Not solely is that this opposite to science on the well being and human rights advantages of decriminalization, however it stands in stark distinction to the commitments enshrined within the 2021 Political Declaration to ends AIDS by 2030, which was adopted by the United Nations Normal Meeting with 165 countries voting in favor. Worse nonetheless is that criminalizing HIV is actively harmful: it prices lives and wastes cash.

    Nations that criminalize folks with HIV have lower rates of HIV therapy and viral suppression in comparison with these with non-discriminatory authorized frameworks. For instance, proof exhibits that decriminalizing intercourse work would avert not less than one-third of new HIV infections amongst feminine intercourse employees.


    Intercourse employees, together with males who’ve intercourse with males, transgender folks, individuals who inject medicine and their sexual companions, and others symbolize key populations at larger threat of buying HIV. Collectively, they bear the brunt of the HIV pandemic: 70% of new HIV cases in 2021 occurred amongst these populations, accounting for greater than half of all new instances in sub-Saharan Africa for the primary time.

    Folks-centered, equity-first insurance policies that allow entry to HIV companies should be scaled up. To finish AIDS as a public well being menace, the world wants to realize the UNAIDS 10-10-10 targets: lower than 10% of individuals residing with HIV and key populations experiencing stigma and discrimination; lower than 10% of individuals residing with HIV, girls and women, and key populations experiencing gender-based inequalities and gender-based violence; and fewer than 10% of nations with authorized and coverage environments that deny or restrict entry to HIV companies.


    The United Nations Improvement Programme, which I work for, has convened the Global Commission on HIV and the Law to assist international locations and communities dismantle discriminatory legal guidelines that unjustly punish folks, entice them in a cycle of sickness and poverty, and stop progress towards ending AIDS.

    So far, the commission’s recommendations have helped not less than 90 international locations advance authorized reforms. Whereas no nation is on observe to assembly the 10-10-10 targets, the actions of those 90 international locations present that change is feasible. I provide three concrete methods to drive additional progress based mostly on classes discovered from decriminalization efforts.

    First, a whole-of-society strategy led by folks residing with HIV and key populations has confirmed the simplest path to alter. Legal guidelines are formed and enforced by advanced networks of parliamentarians, legislation enforcement, legal professionals, and judges. Altering legal guidelines and eradicating limitations requires partaking these authorities and sensitizing them to the lived realities of HIV-positive folks and key populations. Conducting government-led participatory legal environment assessments, which meaningfully interact communities, has been profitable in advancing authorized reform, together with decriminalization of HIV.

    In 2019, the UNDP worked with Zimbabwe to conduct a authorized surroundings evaluation, which recognized criminalization as a barrier to well being care and a driver of stigma. Based mostly on these outcomes, stakeholders together with Zimbabwe’s Nationwide AIDS Council, Zimbabwe Attorneys for Human Rights, parliamentarians, civil society activists and key populations labored to advocate for decriminalization. In early 2022, Zimbabwe repealed its authorized code criminalizing HIV.

    Second, a well-informed judiciary is usually key to defending the rights of susceptible folks and laying the groundwork for extra inclusive authorized techniques. Making certain that judges have up-to-date info on the science of HIV leads to extra informed rulings and drives optimistic change. This consists of stopping overly broad interpretation of the legislation, equivalent to Covid-19 lockdown insurance policies that have been used to justify the arrest of 23 people at a shelter for homeless LGBTQ+ youths in Uganda. A lot of them have been later launched by the order of a Ugandan court.

    Secure areas for peer-led conversations could be a important venue for disseminating this type of info. The UNDP helps regional networks of judges in Africa, Europe and Central Asia, and the Caribbean. These boards present a possibility to share the most recent information on HIV science, public well being, legislation, human rights, and the lived experiences of key populations. The outcomes communicate for themselves: In July, the excessive court docket of Antigua and Barbuda struck down its laws criminalizing intercourse between consenting same-sex adults.

    Third, decriminalization should be complemented by the creation of authorized environments that actively safeguard human rights and shield susceptible communities from stigma and discrimination. Entry to authorized companies is a cornerstone of an enabling authorized surroundings, however solely 41% of countries report having mechanisms to attach folks residing with HIV and key populations to companies. This disconnect with authorized companies has an actual impact. In a survey of individuals in 18 international locations, over the past 12 months less than 50% of individuals residing with HIV whose rights have been abused sought authorized redress.

    Civil society organizations, just like the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition and Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice, play important roles in delivering companies to and advocating for folks residing with HIV and key populations. However international locations are more and more passing legal guidelines that prohibit the power of those sorts of non-governmental organizations to function. In 2019, 50 countries had drafted laws or applied legal guidelines that stop NGOs from performing their work. Since then, restrictive laws has continued to look, in Mexico, Tunisia, and elsewhere. The UNDP is working with a number of stakeholders on methods to create an open civic area and authorized environments which permit full engagement of civil society.

    Efforts to halt the unfold of HIV and to look after folks residing with it are far much less efficient in international locations that criminalize folks residing with HIV and key populations, and decriminalization efforts are transferring far too slowly. There’s, nonetheless, trigger for hope. On the recently-concluded 24th International AIDS Conference in Montreal, there was a way of renewed objective, solidarity and a recognition of the necessity to urgently advance decriminalization efforts.

    If the world doesn’t act on the science now; transfer towards decriminalizing and cease prosecuting folks for HIV transmission, non-disclosure, or publicity; and ship on its obligations, it gained’t be attainable to finish AIDS as a public well being menace by 2030.

    Mandeep Dhaliwal is the director of the HIV and Well being Group for the United Nations Improvement Programme.

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