For activist and community leader Kapul Robert* from Papua New Guinea (PNG) accessing HIV services is a constant challenge. “Papua New Guinea has a law that says sodomy is illegal and this law is contributing to the high-levels of stigma existing in society for both men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people.”
Almost all Pacific nations—and many countries across Asia-Pacific— have examples of laws and practices that criminalize people living with HIV or people most at risk of infection such as MSM, sex workers, transgender people, migrants and prisoners. Such punitive laws and policies sustain violence and discrimination and contribute to significant obstacles to access HIV-related services.
According to Mr Robert, who identifies as MSM, the general population of PNG would never be able to say they had sex with another man as they would immediately feel discriminated against. “It’s hard to talk about it,” he said. “If people are referred to government run rural clinics they just don’t go back because they are afraid to be judged. So they don’t receive their HIV test results or their medication,” he explains. “People don’t feel free under the law to identify themselves as MSM or transgender,” he added.
Responding to such challenges, leaders from government, health, legal and community sectors of seven Pacific Island nations—Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu—came together for a consultation in Nadi, Fiji at the end of April. The objective was to identify concrete country-level actions needed to address punitive laws, law enforcement practices and weak access to justice to ensure greater access to HIV services.
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