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UNAIDS Reports Successes But HIV Stigma Still Lingers

United Nations, Nov 29 2012 (IPS) - “The Aids World Day report of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) shows that  new HIV infection rates have  decreased by 50 percent across 25 low- and middle-income countries,” Ambassador Dr. Mwaba Kasese-Bota,  Permanent Representative of Zambia to the UN, told a panel on “Getting to zero: Strategies for addressing HIV-related stigma and discrimination”.

UNAIDS has reported that the number of people with access to antiretroviral therapy increased by 63%  in the last 24 months, reaching 8 million in 2011 and that AIDS related deaths had fallen, between 2005 and 2011,  by more than 25 percent .

But “AIDS is far from over,” said  Dr. Mandeep Dhaliwal, UN Development Programme leader for AIDS/HIV.

“We all must wake up in order to get to zero new HIV infection, zero deaths and zero stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV,” Kasese-Bota said.

Even if the number of new infections has declined,  both in the general population and in children (under 15 years-old), there is still a lot of issues at stake.

According to the UNAIDS’ 2012 Aids World Day report, “HIV continues to have a disproportionate impact on sex workers, people who inject drugs and men who have sex with men.” Besides, people living with HIV are facing stigmatization, discrimination and marginalization.

“I stand here representing millions of young people in the world and in Africa. Young people need to stand up and say enough is enough,” said Michael Ighodora,  youth activist from Nigeria living with HIV earlier during a press conference.

“We need good actions based on science and human rights rather than fear, prejudice and stigma,” said Dr. Dhaliwal. “Without efficient policies and good legal environment we will not reach an efficient HIV response,” she added.

Currently,  about 60 countries still have laws criminalizing the transmission of HIV and more than 70 countries have laws criminalizing homosexuality.

But according to Dhaliwal, “changing policies and legal environment to eliminate HIV stigma could lower the new HIV infections by a difference of one million lives.” Some countries are currently studying the abrogation of former colonial laws criminalizing homosexuality.

“We need to do much more to be sure that there is more inclusive discussions and consultations  to reach youth. We need to listen what they need,” said Dhaliwal, including the need of youth, who are at high risk of marginalization in a discriminatory environment.

“I’ve been thrown out of my house by my family and I started to enjoy the gay life without any information about the possibility to get infected by the HIV,” said Ighodora about his own story.

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