All governments are urged to take steps to eliminate stigma and discrimination faced by men who have sex with men, lesbians and transgender populations.
They must also create social and legal environments that ensure respect for human rights and enable universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. This is according to a statement by Executive Director of UNAIDS Michael Sidibe on the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia being observed today.
In the statement, Sidibe noted that the failure to respond effectively has allowed HIV to reach crisis levels in many communities of men who have sex with men and transgender people. Efforts to reverse this crisis he said, must be evidence informed, grounded in human rights and underpinned by the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
The statement revealed that on the 2006 United Nations Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, governments committed to removing legal barriers and passing laws to protect vulnerable populations. He noted however, that more than 80 countries still have legislation that prohibits same sex behaviour.
According to the executive director, “today, more than ever, we must work together to end homophobia and ensure the barriers that stop access to HIV services are removed.”
Meanwhile, according to a press release, the UNAIDS and the UNDP have launched a plan which seeks to increase access to HIV information and services in a bid to encourage new and better approaches to HIV, specifically focusing on men who have sex with men and other transgender populations.
The release has stated that in many parts of the world HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is more than 20 times higher than the general population. It added that according to studies, HIV prevention services reach only one tenth to one third of people who engage in male homosexual activity. Additionally, a growing body of evidence shows that the majority of new infections in many urban areas are among men who have sex with men; yet these same groups have limited access to HIV-related information and health services due to discrimination, violence, marginalisation and other human rights violations. In many countries, they still face criminal sanctions and lack access to justice.
Paul De Lay, Deputy Executive Director ad interim, programme, UNAIDS was quoted in the release as stating, “Countries must be rigorous in monitoring the evolution of their epidemics and recalibrate their HIV programming to respond to the needs of those most at risk. In many settings this will be men who have sex with men.” He added also that “responses must be based on local epidemiological and social realities to be effective.”
According to the release, the status quo falls far short of what is required to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support a commitment made by United Nations member states in 2006.
“The case is clear and urgent,” said Jeffery O’Malley, Director of UNDP’s HIV group. “If we are going to make universal access for sexual minorities a meaningful reality, we must work towards ending homophobia and transphobia. We must address the legal and policy barriers,” he added.
The UNAIDS framework outlines several factors that impede access to HIV services: unwillingness on the part of governments and donors to invest in the sexual health of sexual minorities; the impact of social marginalisation on the desire to access health-related services; fear of violence and public exposure; fear of criminal repercussions and a lack of provision of information and services.
The action framework outlines how UNAIDS will work towards achieving universal access through three main objectives: improving human rights, strengthening the evidence base through better data; and reinforcing capacity and promoting partnerships to ensure broader and better responses. Within the UNAIDS partnership, UNDP focuses on the rights of vulnerable populations such as men having sex with men and transgendered people.
The release furthered that in Guyana, as part of the joint UN programme of support 20009-2011, the UN will embark on a project towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for sexual minorities. This project will be a joint venture between the joint United Nations Team on AIDS, SASOD and GuyBow.