UN: conservative laws linked to rise in HIV

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Rates of new HIV infection among gay men, drug users and prostitutes are increasing because laws against these practices deters people from seeking medical help, according to Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, the Associated Press reports. Sidibé said that the fact that homosexuality is still criminalized in 85 countries—and punishable by death in seven—is unacceptable, and expressed dismay over proposed legislation in Uganda that would impose the death penalty on some homosexuals. As the AP reports, Sidibé expressed concern that policies and laws that deter individuals from seeking needed medical help could unravel progress made in the fight against HIV: “You have also a growing conservatism which is making me very scared… We must insist that the rights of the minorities are upheld. If we don’t do that … I think the epidemic will grow again. We cannot accept the tyranny of the majority.”

Speaking Monday at a lunch hosted by the United Nations Foundation, Sidibé pointed out that in countries with laws against homosexuality, roughly a third of new infections are among men who have sex with men. In contrast, in the Caribbean, for example, where most countries do not criminalize homosexual behavior, new HIV infection rates among gay men are between 3–6%.

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, some 70% of new HIV infections are among drug users, Sidibé said, according to the AP: “But they are criminalized… They don’t have access to services. They have to hide themselves and go underground.”

Policies that deter at-risk individuals from seeking treatment, coupled with a growing complacency about HIV education, may erode the progress made against the disease, Sidibé warned, and the U.S. is no exception. Last year, more than 50% of new HIV infections in the U.S. were among homosexual men. The UNAIDS director expressed serious concern about the alarming trend, the AP reports: “After almost no cases a few years ago we are seeing again this new peak among people who are not having access to all the information, the protection that is needed.”

Read the full AP story here.