AIDS 2016: The criminalization of vulnerable populations fuels the HIV epidemic in many countries

THE criminalization of same-sex relationships and prostitution in most parts of the continent has been cited as the major cause of the recurrence of HIV/AIDS in recent years.

After a period of decline, new HIV infections among adults across the globe are on the rise again, it has emerged at the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.

South Africa is the only African country legalise same-sex unions.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), HIV remains stubbornly high among men who have intercourse with men, sex workers, people who use drugs, and transgender women.

Groups like these, which are criminalized in many places, account for more than one-third of new HIV infections worldwide.

HRW Senior Researcher of Health and Human Rights, Megan McLemore, said criminalization restricted access to health care, forcing those most vulnerable to HIV to the margins of society.

“For the sake of populations most vulnerable to HIV, criminal laws need to be reformed, and fast. There is no time to waste,” said McLemore.

Meanwhile, a special issue of the Lancet medical journal released at the Durban conference described prisoners as the most neglected and vulnerable of all populations in the global HIV/AIDS response.

 “Prison health care is abysmal in many parts of the world, and HIV prevention and treatment inside some jails is limited or nonexistent,” said McLemore.

Human Rights Watch has documented government failure to provide HIV prevention and treatment programs to prisoners, most recently in Louisiana parish jails.

Michel Sidibe, executive director at UNAIDS, said nearly 2 million people become HIV-positive every year.

Originally published in Caj News