Integrated Regional Information Networks - February 9, 2012
BANGKOK, 9 February 2012 (PlusNews) - While a number of Asian and
Pacific countries are addressing legal barriers to accessing HIV
information and treatment, there is still a gap between policy
and implementation, say officials.
"No matter how good our laws are, the effectiveness of them is in
the will of those implementing them," said Fiji's President Ratu
Epeli Nailatikau at a recent UN-convened meeting in Bangkok on
addressing legal barriers to HIV care and prevention.
Almost all countries in the region still have at least one
"punitive law" - a policy or practice that impedes access to HIV
services - according to a recent report from UN Joint Programme
on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
Laws that criminalize same-sex relations and sex work or restrict
travel for HIV-positive people make it difficult to provide
information and care for people most at risk of HIV infection,
Progress to scrap such laws has been mixed in the region - even
within one country.
Fiji, for example, eliminated laws restricting travel of people
infected with HIV in 2011 and became the first country in the
Pacific region to decriminalize sex between men in 2010.
But at the same time, in February 2010, prostitution was
criminalized, giving police the right to arrest and charge people
who operate as sex workers.
The government is now reviewing HIV legislation and punitive
Elsewhere in the region, the national AIDS programme manager of
Myanmar's Health Ministry, Khin Ohnmar San, told IRIN Burmese
police forces had been informed of a 2007 order that "condoms
must not be used as material witness to arrest sex workers".
But that has done little to assuage sex workers' fears in
Myanmar, said Kay Thi Win, programme manager with a Yangon-based
NGO that informs sex workers about HIV prevention and their legal
Many sex workers "are still afraid to carry condoms because of
the police", she added.
Andrew Hunter, president of the Bangkok-based Asia Pacific
Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) said regionally, women are still
arrested on the suspicion of working in the sex industry, which
is outlawed, if they are carrying condoms.
"Everyone pleads guilty because experience shows that fighting
cases in court leads to longer jail sentences."
APNSW provides support to sex workers in 22 countries in the
Hunter added: "There is a scale of what sex worker advocates can
do across the Asia Pacific, from Myanmar, where advocacy must be
done quietly and behind the scenes, to India where sex workers
are able to take to the streets to protest."
In India, which accounts for almost half of those infected with
HIV in the region, there are efforts to update police officers
about HIV prevention and all policies regarding treatment, said
Tejdeep Kaur Menon, a director-general of police forces in the
city of Hyderabad in the country's southeast.
Home to 60 percent of the world's population, the regional death
toll from AIDS in 2010 (some 310,000 people) is second only to
that of sub-Saharan Africa.