ZAMBIA: PEPFAR prevention approach too narrow – report

JOHANNESBURG, 30 June 2009 (PlusNews) – The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has taken a damagingly narrow approach to HIV prevention in Zambia, ignoring realities on the ground and neglecting the most at-risk populations, says a new report.

Researchers from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), a non-governmental organization that advocates sexual and reproductive health education and services, travelled to Zambia to determine what nearly US$577 million in PEPFAR funding between 2004 and 2008 had achieved.

Their findings are based on interviews with HIV/AIDS organizations, activists, medical professionals, community leaders, policymakers and programme participants. Continue reading

What Obama should do to save lives

YEARENDER: Politics of sex
Posted : Tue, 16 Dec 2008 05:09:24 GMT
Author : DPA

Washington – If you don’t talk about sex, you can’t save lives. But sex is complicated, and when it collides with politics and science it usually generates controversy.

Sexual and reproductive health are uncomfortable subjects – emotionally charged, morally loaded and politically sensitive – because they delve into the most intimate aspects of people’s lives.

Public health experts are clear that all government actions must be based on scientific evidence, but say that for several years, reproductive health policies in the United States have relied more on morality than science.
They hope once president-elect Barack Obama takes office, he will reverse many of the regressive sexual health policies of President George W Bush’s administration, which have damaged the reputation of the US at home and at abroad, and potentially put millions of lives at risk.

“With the election of … Obama … (we) look forward to an end to the Bush administration’s relentless assault on women’s reproductive health and rights,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Centre for Reproductive Rights (CRR), a New York-based legal advocacy group.

“For eight years … we have suffered under the yoke of an administration that has suppressed science to the detriment of health and has done damage to constitutional and human rights value,” CRR wrote in a letter to Obama after his November 4 victory.

Continue reading

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Sex Workers Group Wins HIV and Rights Award

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers Honored at AIDS Conference

Mexico Conference

(Mexico City, August 6, 2008) – The Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) is the recipient of the 2008 international Award for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Human Rights Watch announced today. The award, which recognizes outstanding individuals and organizations that protect the rights and dignity of people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, was presented in Mexico City on August 6, 2008, at the XVII International AIDS Conference.

“Sex workers routinely face human rights abuses, including the discriminatory denial of health services, arbitrary detention by police, harassment, and sexual and physical violence,” said Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. “This award recognizes the extraordinary contribution of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers in the struggle for sex workers’ rights.”

Since 1994, APNSW has represented sex workers in various policy and educational forums, promoting the participation of sex workers in HIV/AIDS programs and supporting dialogue between nongovernmental organizations, governments, and activists. The group has challenged the increasing criminalization of all forms of sex work and unethical drug trials with sex workers as subjects.

APNSW has shaped policy at the global and regional levels, and built the capacity of local grassroots sex worker organizations, including by creating a network of transgender activists. Throughout Asia, the network has been challenging gender-based violence, promoting access to health care for sex workers, and advocating for the decriminalization of sex work.

“I am honored to accept this award on behalf of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers,” said Andrew Hunter, the network’s policy director. “International recognition of sex workers’ human rights is vital to curb the HIV pandemic. Governments and UN agencies need to promote sustainable, comprehensive HIV prevention and care initiatives for sex workers that are community-led and protect their human rights.”

The stigmatization, social exclusion, and legal marginalization of sex workers contribute to human rights violations, and can exacerbate their risk of HIV infection. Increasingly, according to APNSW, anti-trafficking efforts and laws criminalizing transactional sex have resulted in violence and human rights abuses against sex workers at the hands of police. The organization pointed to new anti-trafficking legislation in Cambodia, where sex workers have been sent to “rehabilitation” centers and subjected to sexual violence and beatings, and had little access to health care or food.

“Being a part of APNSW – working in solidarity with tens of thousands of sex workers in the region – has allowed us to challenge the way the authorities have applied this law in Cambodia, and to gain strength to bring this issue to international attention,” said Kao Tha of the Women’s Network for Unity, a sex worker rights organization in Cambodia.

“The International AIDS Conference presents a forum to focus worldwide attention on the epidemic and our global response,” said Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS program at Human Rights Watch. “Unfortunately, too often that response has been tainted by prejudice and misinformation. Only by ensuring the health and human rights of sex workers will governments, UN agencies, donors and nongovernmental groups be effective at reducing the vulnerability of sex workers to HIV infection. The Asia Pacific Network’s work epitomizes this.”

The Awards for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights were established in 2002 by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Human Rights Watch. An award is presented annually to one Canadian and one international recipient. This year’s Canadian recipient was Peter Collins, a prisoner and health activist in Ontario, Canada.

http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2008/07/31/cambod19520.htm

Sex Work, HIV/AIDS and Human Rights: From Criminalization to Protection

Kelly Castagnaro on August 8, 2008 – 11:08am
Kelly Castagnaro's picture

Thursday, at a panel session on sex work and human rights, advocates called for the implementation of effective HIV program and policy interventions based on the respect for the human rights of sex workers.

“We are not part of the problem; we are the solution,” said Alejandra Gil of Mexico. “Don’t close your eyes; we are here: we are youth, men who have sex with men and women living with HIV.  We are not going away.”

Across cultures, sex workers have been historically cast as social deviants and victims.  They have been further stigmatized and discriminated against as disease vectors in the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  As a result, governments have enacted policies that criminalize and violate the health and human rights of sex workers.

While criminalization may have political appeal, there is no evidence that this is an effective strategy for protecting sex workers from violence and abuse. In fact, there is growing evidence from numerous countries, including Sweden, that criminalizing the sex worker or her/his client is likely to contribute to the abuse and marginalization of sex workers. Criminalization gives latitude to the police to abuse sex workers, and leads to other human rights violations.

Enacting bad policies is not going to improve the state of HIV/AIDS in the sex worker community.  Changing the course of the epidemic requires measures that empower sex workers against HIV/AIDS.  Policymakers and implementers need to end the conflation of trafficking, sex work and violence by recognizing that sex work is work, and that men, women and transgenders have the right to earn a living with dignity and respect. Sex workers need to be meaningfully involved in the design, implementation and evaluation of policies and research on sex work so that programs addressing the gender equality, violence and economic disparities among this population can be effectively implemented.

These changes are crucial to move the discussion beyond vice and victim hood and create concrete policy solutions that respect the rights of sex workers and provide HIV/AIDS services free of stigma and discrimination.

Sex Workers at IAC: “Listen to Us!”