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Governments and leaders around the world have been called upon to institute effective laws and policies that protect and promote the rights of people affected by HIV and its co-infections.

The call, by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law – an independent commission convened by UNDP on behalf of UNAIDS –  notes that success and sustainability of the global HIV response will be largely determined in large part by urgent action on laws and policies around HIV/AIDS.

The Commission operates with the goal of catalyzing progress around laws and policies that impact people affected by HIV.

According to a new groundbreaking report released by the Commission, discrimination against vulnerable and marginalized communities is seriously hampering the global effort to tackle the HIV epidemic.

The new report released ahead of the biannual global AIDS conference, taking place in Amsterdam, reveals that even though more people than ever before having access to antiretroviral treatment, governments must take urgent action to ensure rights-based responses to HIV and its co-infections (tuberculosis and viral hepatitis).

Since 2012, there have been positive changes in transforming laws and policies, and advancements in science that make it possible to further accelerate progress against the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Commission noted.

However, the argument is that the future of HIV/AIDS will be only be determined by legal environments that drive universal health and human dignity.

On February 3, 2015, the Federal government of Nigeria signed the HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination bill 2014 into law, as part of government’s effort to end AIDS in the country by 2030.

Although HIV/AIDS stigmatization and discrimination is a crime in several African countries, implementation of the law remains an issue.

 Cases of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS that suffer stigmatization, humiliation, discrimination and denials continue to make the rounds.

The essence of the HIV/AIDS law is a reflection of a nation’s commitment towards stopping all forms of stigmatization and discrimination targeted of People Living with HIV/AIDS.

Giving insight into the report during a telephone conference with journalists, Mandeep Dhaliwal, the Director of Health and HIV at UNDP, noted: “Progress on tackling the AIDS epidemic shows that when we work together we can save lives and empower those at risk.  “However, the new report is also a warning that unless governments get serious about tackling bad laws, the overall AIDS response will continue to be undermined and we will fail those who are left behind,” Dhaliwal noted.

“Global politics are changing, and repressive laws and policies are on the rise,” said Michael Kirby, former Justice of the High Court of Australia. “In recent years, political trends have negatively impacted the global HIV response: civic space has shrunk, migrants don’t have access to health care, and funding has dropped.”

The report warns that shrinking civil society space due to government crackdowns is hampering the HIV response as marginalized groups are seeing key health services cut off. The fight against HIV, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis will only be won if civil society is empowered and able to provide services, mobilize for justice and hold governments accountable.

“In the wake of the ongoing global refugee crisis, borders have tightened and access to health services has been restricted for millions of migrants – exactly the opposite of what is needed,” said Dr. Shereen El Feki, Vice-Chair of the Commission. “Condemning people who have left their homes to seek safety strips them of their human rights and in the process increases their vulnerability to HIV and its co-infections.”

Refugees and asylum seekers are often at high risk of HIV and overlapping infections like tuberculosis, but harsh laws restrict health care access. Laws must change to ensure that everyone, no matter where they are from, can receive quality health services.

 But the world is also still off track in funding responses to HIV, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis: in 2015 – the same year that countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its pledge to leave no one behind – donor funding for AIDS fell by 13 percent. Sadly the small uptick in donor funding for HIV in 2017 is at best an anomaly.

 But already, UNDP together with its UN and civil society partners have helped 89 countries revise their laws to protect people’s health and rights since 2012.

To date HIV criminalization laws have been repealed in at least 10 countries – Ghana, Greece, Honduras, Kenya, Malawi, Mongolia, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and at least two US states.

Leaders are taking steps to address gender inequities to bolster the rights of women and girls who are disproportionately affected by HIV: Tunisia recently passed a law to end violence against women in public and private life, and Jordan and Lebanon have strengthened legislation on marital rape.

Also, access to health care is being prioritized with emphasis on emerging illnesses that target people vulnerable to HIV.

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