Fatal flaw in official anti-AIDS declaration

COMMENTARY

Elly Katabira of Uganda, president of the International AIDS Society.
Dr. Elly Katabira of Uganda, president of the International AIDS Society.

A new declaration seeking “global support to end the AIDS epidemic” has one fatal shortcoming.

It outlines nine strategies for fighting HIV / AIDS, but fails to mention the tragic consequences of 76-plus nations’ laws against homosexuality, which effectively exclude LGBT people from receiving AIDS-related services.

The “Washington D.C. Declaration” will be the official declaration of the International AIDS Conference, scheduled for the nation’s capital July 22-27.

The document was unveiled this week by the International AIDS Society and the University of California, San Francisco, which are seeking signatures of support from “scientists, politicians, celebrities and all other concerned citizens of the world.”

Dr. Elly Katabira, president of the IAS and international chair of this month’s conference, introduced the declaration optimistically, stating, “In a scenario unthinkable just a few years ago, we now have the knowledge to begin to end AIDS in our lifetimes.”

Logo of the International AIDS Conference
Logo of the International AIDS Conference

Several of the strategies in the declaration come close to the issue of anti-homosexuality laws, though none addresses it directly.  But without repeal of those laws, the following strategies in the Washington DC Declaration cannot be implemented:

  • “Ensure evidence-based HIV prevention, treatment and care in accord with the human rights of those at greatest risk and in greatest need. This includes men who have sex with men, transgender individuals, people who use drugs, vulnerable women, young people, pregnant women living with HIV, and sex workers, as well as other affected populations. No one can be excluded if we are to reach our goal.”  But if LGBT people are defined as criminals, they WILL be excluded.
  • “End stigma, discrimination, legal sanctions and human rights abuses against people living with HIV and those at risk. Stigma and discrimination hamper all our efforts and prevent delivery of essential services.” But if LGBT people are defined as criminals, they WILL be stigmatized and discriminated against.
  • “Markedly increase HIV testing, counseling and linkages to prevention, care and support services. Every person has a right to know her/his HIV status and get the treatment, care and support they need.” But in countries where LGBT people are defined as criminals, they often are excluded from such services.
  • “Expand access to antiretroviral treatment to all in need. We cannot end AIDS until the promise of universal access is realized.” Again, where LGBT people are defined as criminals, they often are denied access to needed treatment.
  • “Mobilization and meaningful involvement of affected communities must be at the core of collective responses. The leadership of those directly affected is paramount to an effective HIV/AIDS response.” But where LGBT people are defined as criminals, they rarely will be allowed to become leaders of the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Anti-homosexuality laws are part of the reason why HIV infection rates estimated by various studies in recent years are higher for men who have sex with men, or MSM, than for the general population in countries such as these:

  • Benin: estimated adult HIV infection rate of 1.2 percent, according to UNAIDS, but 25.5 percent for MSM.
  • Ghana:  1.8 percent overall, but 25 percent for MSM.
  • Guyana: 1.2 percent overall, but 19.4 percent to 21.3 percent for MSM.
  • Indonesia: 0.2 percent overall, but 5.2 percent for MSM.
  • Jamaica: 1.7 percent overall, but 25 percent to 31.8 percent for MSM.
  • Kenya: 6.3 percent overall, but 10.6 percent to 43 percent for MSM.
  • Malaysia: 0.5 percent overall, but 3.9 percent to 7 percent for MSM,
  • Nigeria: 3.6 percent overall, but 13.5 percent for MSM.
  • Sudan: 1.1 percent overall, but 8.8 percent to 9.3 percent for MSM.
  • Uganda: 6.5 percent overall, but 12.4 percent to 32.9 percent for MSM. [As of a 2011 survey, Uganda’s overall infection rate had increased to 7.3 percent.]
  • Zambia: 13.5 percent overall, but 32.9 percent for MSM.

Laws against homosexuality are an obstacle to victory in the fight against AIDS. Strategies ignoring that fact are strategies for failure.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor/publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at info@76crimes.com.

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