Using laws to help tackle HIV/AIDS resonates widely | Helen Clark

09 Jul 2013

HIV law booklet In 2005, a new national AIDS law developed with UNDP's support was approved by the Government in Kyrgyzstan. (Photo: UNDP Kyrgyzstan)

Laws which safeguard dignity, health and justice are essential to effective HIV responses. This was one of the main messages of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, an independent panel of eminent legal, political and public health experts convened by UNDP on behalf of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS. The Commission’s landmark report, HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health, which provides a compelling evidence base and recommendations on how the law can be used to protect people living with and most vulnerable to HIV, was launched at the United Nations on 9 July 2012.

One year later, the understanding that laws, based on evidence and grounded in human rights principles, are a relatively low-cost way of controlling HIV and reducing stigma, is taking root. Today, UNDP is working in partnership with governments,the United Nations and civil society partners in 82 countries to take forward the Commission’s findings and recommendations. National dialogues on issues of HIV, human rights and law in 20 countries have brought people living with and affected by HIV together with those who shape, interpret and enforce laws. Judicial sensitization, parliamentary development and strengthening national human rights institutions are also important elements of taking forward the Commission’s recommendations.

Countries are using the Commission’s report to review laws ranging from the overly broad or outdated which criminalise HIV and those most vulnerable to HIV, to trade laws governing access to life-saving medicines, laws which prevent young people from accessing HIV and health services, and laws governing early marriage and inheritance which perpetuate gender inequality—which correlate to higher rates of HIV infection.

Overall, the Commission’s report has become an important legal and policy tool. For example, debates in the United Kingdom’s House of Lords on HIV, discriminatory laws and LGBT rights have drawn on the Commission’s findings and recommendations. Policy debates at the World Trade Organization on exemptions for Least Developed Countries from intellectual property obligations in order to expand access to HIV treatment have also cited the evidence presented by the Commission.

Technical guidance from the World Health Organization on the prevention and treatment of HIV and sexually transmitted infections in sex workers cites evidence and recommendations in the Commission’s report. The report also provides a blueprint for addressing human rights related barriers to accessing HIV and health services which can support the work of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the United States President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief.

Recently, at the first meeting of The Lancet-UNAIDS Commission on AIDS and Health, the Commission’s report was described as an important policy tool for advancing human rights and health in the post-2015 development agenda. I hope the Commission’s work will be a catalyst for inclusiveness, equality and dignity in the response to HIV for years to come.

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