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New UN Commission Probes HIV and the Law

A new U.N. commission was launched Thursday to look at how laws affect national HIV/AIDS responses.

The U.N. Development Program (UNDP) and UNAIDS say, “Nearly 30 years into the epidemic, there are many countries in which negative legal environments undermine HIV response and punish, rather than protect, people in need.”

Members of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law include experts on law, public health, human rights and HIV/AIDS. They’ll recommend how the law can “better support” universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care.

The U.N. agencies say, “Laws which criminalize men who have sex with men, transgender people, drug users and/or sex workers can make it difficult to provide essential HIV prevention or treatment services to people at high risk of infection.”

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark says that the “next generation” of HIV responses must focus on human rights by improving legal and social environments. She says, “Some 106 countries still report having laws and policies that present significant obstacles to effective HIV responses.”

UNAIDS chief Michel Sidibe says, “The time has come…to respond to the voice of the voiceless.”

But laws have had a positive effect, too. Many countries have legislation to protect against stigma and discrimination and ensure the right to treatment.

“Where the law has guaranteed women equal inheritance and property rights, it has reduced the impact of HIV on women, children, families and communities.”

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law is scheduled to announce its recommendations in December 2011.