Discrimination and criminalization impede access to HIV services

Shobha Shukla — CNS
Based on pre-ICAAP interviews conducted by Jeanne Marie Hallacy: Voices of affected community representatives
Repeal punitive laws
“Almost 90% of countries in the Asia Pacific region have retained laws that come from colonial times and are not progressive. They are making it difficult for the communities to access services or even address stigma and discrimination. Repeal of punitive laws in this region is very important.”
Moi Lee Liow, Asia Pacific Council of Aids Service Organizations (APCASO)

Criminalization of drug use fails harm reduction approaches
“All across Asia, criminalization towards people who use drugs is high. Even in countries that are implementing harm reduction approaches led by health ministries, law enforcement agencies are not on the same page. When drug users try to access these services – even for drug substitution treatment or accessing clean syringes and needles – they are harassed and even arrested by the police. Many people from our network are getting arrested while trying to access the services. So, approaches for harm reduction are not going to work, as long as we are treated as criminals.”
Sam Nugraha, Asian Network of People Who Use Drugs (ANPUD)

Criminalizing same-sex behaviour drives MSM and TGs underground
“There is still a lot of stigma and discrimination, and a lack of political will to tackle the needs of the vulnerable populations of men who have sex with men (MSMs) and transgenders (TGs), because of which they are less likely to access services such as HIV testing. In our region of 38 countries, 18 countries criminalize same-sex behaviour, which drives people underground. Only about one-third of MSMs and TGs know their HIV status, while two-thirds have not been tested.”
Midnight Poonkasetwattana, Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM)

Institutionalized discrimination lurks in some schools
“In many Asian countries, there is institutionalized stigma and discrimination, particularly in schools. Some schools require HIV tests before the students are accepted, and for those students with HIV that is a big problem. In Thailand, if you want to go to medical school you need to get an HIV test. We met some young people living with HIV in Thailand who had to ditch their dreams of going to medical school just because they will not be accepted as they won’t pass that test.”
Rico Gustav, Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (APN+)

Punitive drug policies do not help
“This region stands out as having particularly harsh drug policies. Virtually every country in the region, with the exception of the Philippines and Brunei, has a death penalty for drug offences, and sometimes even for possessing minor quantities of drugs. It is an incredibly moralized and heavily politicized issue, so it is difficult to encourage debate on alternative approaches to drug policy. We call for drug policies that support people who use drugs in their community and not punish them by imposing criminal penalties for drug use. Instead of imposing these punitive measures and compulsory registration for people who use drugs and compulsory detention as a form of treatment, let’s support them with essential life-saving services they need.”
Gloria Lai, International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service — CNS
November 2013 

Note: This article was first published in 11th ICAAP INSIGHT, the official daily conference newspaper of 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (11th ICAAP) in Bangkok, Thailand. This newspaper was managed by Inis Communication and CNS.