Press statement

Joint statement of UN agencies on criminal charges brought against HIV activists and health and social workers in eastern Europe and central Asia

GENEVA, 15 July 2010—Five United Nations agencies—UNICEF, UNFPA, WHO, UNAIDS, and UNDP—express concern that health and social workers have suffered as a result of their professional activities in the response to HIV in several countries in eastern Europe and central Asia.

Persecution, criminal investigation, arrests and sentencing of HIV activists as well as health and social workers affect not only the lives of the people involved but also discourage other activists and professionals, and deprive societies of some of the most valuable and vital resources in the response to the epidemic—people’s commitment and energy at the community level.

Health, social and outreach workers are at the front line of the response to HIV, providing critical assistance to the hundreds of thousands of people who need it. They also help countries meet their goals and obligations in the HIV response, linking government efforts with the most vulnerable to HIV—young people and populations at high risk of infection.

In several countries of eastern Europe and central Asia, health and social workers and volunteers have been prosecuted because of their professional activities—activities they felt compelled to carry out in order to save lives, as the epidemic does not wait for societies to adjust and re-examine principles and approaches.

The activities of these practitioners have been guided by scientific evidence on how best to achieve good public health outcomes. Often challenging taboos, health and social workers inform adolescents about the behaviours that lead to HIV infection, help injecting drug users through harm reduction activities, support prevention programmes for sex workers and men who have sex with men, and work in oral substitution centres for drug users or in health facilities in conditions that are far from perfect.

Eastern Europe and central Asia is the only region in the world where new HIV infections remain on the rise. The contribution of these front-line practitioners is essential in responding to the epidemic in the region. They need the support and protection of authorities, and their basic human rights must be ensured.

The UN agencies urge governments to acknowledge the critical role of health and social workers in the prevention and treatment of HIV infection and to better understand the complexity of their work. We appeal to the governments of the region to bring an end to counterproductive persecution and harassment, to discontinue procedures that hamper their work and release those who have been detained.

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