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Change Punitive Laws To Fight HIV

June 16, 2011

Punitive legal environments are seriously increasing peoples' risk of getting HIV the International HIV/AIDS Alliance is warning this World AIDS Day.

Discriminatory and punitive laws will be the focus for an audience of senior lawyers and diplomats at the first World AIDS Day Commonwealth lecture, chaired by Cherie Booth QC, in London on 30 November. The lecture will be given by Justice AP Shah who created shockwaves across the continent when he decriminalised homosexuality in Delhi, India.

"We see the problem that punitive laws and enforcement practices can cause for people who need quick and easy access to HIV treatment, care and prevention. Governments and the legal profession need to work more closely with the affected communities to address these laws and access legal services," said Alvaro Bermejo, Executive Director of International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Women and girls, men who have sex with men, sex workers and injecting drug users as well as people who are living with HIV struggle to access the services they need because of environments where they feel judged or punished.

The World AIDS Day lecture is organised by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and the Commonwealth HIV & AIDS Action Group and hosted by the Commonwealth Foundation.

Cherie Booth, QC commented, "The legal profession has an important role to play in providing an environment where people can come forward and be tested for HIV and cared for."

Justice AP Shah who is giving the lecture made history in India when he overturned Section 377 that criminalised consenting homosexual relationships in the capital Delhi.

"Indian society is very conservative but from the evidence presented I could see that without changing the legal framework to help men who have sex with men access good healthcare and HIV prevention services we would not successfully be able to deal with the epidemic in our country," said Justice Shah today.

HIV and AIDS is a major issue in many Commonwealth countries which have inherited outdated British laws. Over 60 per cent of people living with HIV live in Commonwealth countries.

"The Commonwealth Foundation is committed to doing all it can to help people access HIV prevention, treatment and care. This Commonwealth lecture on World AIDS Day will help more countries become familiar with the example of India, which has identified the benefits of starting to decriminalise homosexuality and abolish laws that drive HIV and AIDS underground," said Mark Collins, Director of the Commonwealth Foundation.


- World AIDS Day is an annual event and is on Wednesday 1 December 2010.

- 2.6 million people worldwide are infected with HIV every year.

- At least 20 African countries have introduced HIV specific offences since 2000.

- People living with HIV have been prosecuted for biting, spitting or scratching although the risk of HIV transmission is minimal.

Justice AP Shah

Born in Solapur, Western India, Justice Shah was formerly Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, he has been described as 'one of the finest judges in the country' by his peers. He retired in February but during his distinguished career in the High Courts of Bombay, Madras and Delhi he ushered in reforms that mean he is hero-worshipped by the poor and disposed of India.

It is his ruling that overturned Section 377, a 150-year old British law banning gay sex between consenting adults that will be most remembered. His decision made news around the world.

He admits he hadn't expected to be the person that would legalise homosexual sex. "I didn't switch on TV channels till late in the evening because I was not sure about the reactions from various quarters. When I attended a workshop with some gay rights activists in 1997 I had categorically said to them that it would be very difficult for an Indian court to legalise homosexual sex. I didn't realise then that I would be deciding the issues one day."

Cherie Booth, QC

Booth is Cherie Blair's professional name. Called to the Bar in 1976, she became a Queens Counsel in 1995 and is a founder member of Matrix Chambers. She sits as a part-time judge and is also an accredited mediator.

As well as fighting for human rights in her professional career, Cherie Blair is an active campaigner on equality and human rights issues. She has spoken across the world on both issues and also on the need for improved work/life balance for both women and men.

International HIV/AIDS Alliance
Commonwealth HIV & AIDS Action Group
Commonwealth Foundation

Link Between Depression And HIV Risk Among South African Young People

June 02, 2011

University of Alberta research has discovered a strong link between depression and risky sexual behaviours such as improper condom use, transactional sex and relationship violence among young people in South Africa.

The research shows that depression is common among young South Africans, and could be making a significant contribution towards the HIV epidemic.

As well, the researchers believe that depression could be contributing to risky sexual behaviours around the world, and that preventing or treating it may reduce the global burden of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS.

Ian Colman and Mzikazi Nduna, researchers from the U of A's School of Public Health, studied 1,002 females and 976 males between the ages of 15 and 26 living in Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. Study participants were surveyed twice, once in 2002, and again 12 months later.

The research found that 21.1 per cent of women and 13.6 per cent of men reported symptoms of depression. Depressed women were more likely to be in controlling relationships, to have a partner who was several years older, and to have experienced sexual violence. Men with depressed symptoms were more likely to have had three or more lifetime partners, experienced transactional sex and committed rape.

All of these behaviours are considered to put young women and men at risk for sexually transmitted HIV.

The research appears in the newest issue of the Journal of the International Aids Society.

Based on their findings, Colman and Nduna recommend routine screening for prevention, diagnosis and management of depression among youth as a means to reducing risky sexual behaviours and, in turn, HIV risk in South Africa.

"Access to mental-health services for young people remains elusive as resources and are directed to more pressing conditions such as teenage pregnancy and HIV prevention," Nduna said. The researchers see potential for blending depression prevention into current sexual and reproductive health clinic services. "Clearly we could achieve better success in our prevention efforts if they are delivered to clients who are in a healthy state of psychological well-being," added Colman, an assistant professor of epidemiology.

Bev Betkowski
University of Alberta

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