Back Human rights abuses and HIV: A role for business?

Richard Welford
Original Article:

Discrimination and other human rights abuses are a major barrier to dealing with HIV/AIDS in Asia. It is intolerance of minority groups and the active harassment of some people with a higher risk of HIV infection that continues to create a major barrier to improving the prevention measures aimed at combating HIV. Yet few agencies in Asia have sought help from the private sector in tackling HIV and the intolerance of and discrimination of some higher risk groups.

Human rights abuses associated with the criminalization of men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people in many parts of Asia is holding back efforts to contain HIV/AIDS. Of the 48 countries in the region, 19 of them have outlawed sex between consenting male adults. Moreover, police in some countries target MSM and transgender people, interrupting testing, HIV prevention services and educational programmes. HIV-prevention services in the Asia-Pacific region reach only 20 percent of men who have sex with men.

There are some positive developments towards protecting the rights of sexual minorities in Asia-Pacific, including Nepal’s decriminalization of male-to-male sex. But we need to see further repealing of laws criminalizing sex between consenting adults, as well as supporting community-based education and advocacy on the human rights of MSM and transgender people. It is not enough to leave laws in place and then not implement them – the message that this is a criminal activity still creates discrimination and prejudice. Anti-discrimination laws should be enacted across the region in relation to sexual orientation and transgender status.

Discrimination leads to stigmatizing attitudes in the general population and discriminatory treatment of vulnerable groups at highest risk, driving them further from the reach of health services and desperately needed prevention, treatment, care, and support services. Daily harassment and abuse also cause health problems and affect mental health, thereby leading to depression, social isolation, and an array of adverse socioeconomic outcomes.  

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