Community representatives air regional concerns in the AIDS response
27 August 2011
A wide range of representatives from key affected communities in the AIDS response joined UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé on 27 August for an interactive dialogue to share their concerns and reflections. The hour-long “Common Ground” session, organized on the second day of the 10th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP 10), was held in memory of Dr Robert Carr, a well known AIDS activist and human rights defender who passed away in May 2011.
“My hope is that this will live up to Robert Carr’s vision of all people coming together, regardless of who we are, what we are and where we are—that we will be able to create spaces that empower our communities to move forward in the AIDS response,” said Vince Crisostomo, Executive Director of the Coalition of Asia Pacific Regional Networks on HIV/AIDS (7 Sisters) and Chair of the “Common Ground” session.
My hope is that this space will live up to Robert Carr’s vision of all people coming together, regardless of who we are, what we are and where we are
Vince Crisostomo, Executive Director of the Coalition of Asia and the Pacific Networks on HIV and AIDS
According to a new report from UNAIDS launched ahead of ICAAP 10, HIV infections in the Asia and the Pacific remain concentrated among key populations: people who buy and sell sex, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, and transgender people. Most programmes to protect key populations and their intimate partners from HIV infection are inadequate in size and scale. Across the region, stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and key populations remain rife, the report found.
In his opening remarks, Mr Sidibé recalled his recent visit to the city of Chengdu, China, where he saw first-hand the critical role that civil society organizations play in ensuring access to HIV services for people who inject drugs and men who have sex with men. “Civil society is the engine in the response to AIDS—particularly in Asia and the Pacific,” said Mr Sidibé. “Policy reforms are needed to give these organizations the space to fully engage,” he added.
Civil society is the engine in the response to AIDS—particularly in Asia and the Pacific. Policy reforms are needed to give these organizations the space to fully engage
Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS
Participants in the dialogue raised a number of issues with the UNAIDS Executive Director, including the need for increased access to antiretroviral treatment across the region, as well as for drugs that are simpler, more robust and more resistant. As of end-2009, more than 60% of people eligible for treatment in Asia and the Pacific were not able to access it, according to the new UNAIDS report.
Representatives from organizations of sex workers underscored that the criminalization of sex work remains a major issue across the region. “Despite all the talk about decriminalizing sex work year after year at conferences, only one country in this region has actually done so: New Zealand,” said Janelle Fawkes, a sex worker and Chief Executive Officer of the Scarlet Alliance, an organization based in Australia.
Across the region, punitive laws and policies continue to hamper the AIDS response. Ninety per cent of countries in Asia and the Pacific have laws and policies that prevent people living with HIV, and key populations at higher risk, from accessing life-saving HIV services.
Among the other issues raised at the forum were the need for increased funding for civil society organizations and the importance of human rights protections for key affected populations.