Anti-Gay Laws Fuel HIV

Published: February 25, 2011

BANGKOK, Feb 25, 2011 (IPS) – Outdated laws that treat same-sex relations as a crime in a third of Asia-Pacific countries fuel fresh HIV infections, especially among men who have sex with men (MSM), a most vulnerable community.

Experts see it as a blot on global advances made in HIV control and are lining up to lobby with 19 Asian countries to repeal their outdated laws.

From Bangkok to Mumbai, Asian cities already suffer the impact of such discriminatory laws and practices with MSM communities showing exponentially high infection rates compared with the general population.

"In the Asia-Pacific region, and across the world, there are too many examples of countries with laws, policies and practices that punish, rather than protect people in need of HIV services," said Michel Sidibe, executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). He was setting the agenda for a regional dialogue in Bangkok last week to deal with legal barriers against HIV prevention.

"Where the law does not advance justice, it stalls," Sidibe added. "Advancing human rights and gender equity would not only be a triumph for the AIDS response, but for human development as a whole."

UNAIDS says most countries in the region still have laws and practices that restrict the rights of people living with HIV and those at higher risk of exposure. Such practices deny communities like injecting drug users (IDUs), sex workers and MSM access to prevention measures, care and treatment, experts say.

Consenting same-sex couples could face jail sentence in Asian countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Burma, Cook Islands, Malaysia, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

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