UK HIV position paper: Bold action required

To mark World AIDS Day 2013, the UK Department for International Development has released an updated version of its position paper on HIV in the developing world, Towards Zero Infections – two years. The Alliance welcomes the pledges it makes but urges bold action to address the legal and structural barriers faced by those most affected by HIV.

This week in London, a parliamentary panel took place hosted by STOP AIDS and the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS, featuring Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development Lynne Featherstone MP.

Speaking to around 50 civil society representatives and MPs, Lynne Featherstone announced the release of an updated version of its position paper on HIV in the developing world, Towards Zero Infections – two years. Speaking at the event, she pledged to tackle HIV among key affected populations and women and girls – the position paper’s focus areas.

The Alliance warmly welcomes DFID’s pledges, but emphasises that in order to deliver for these groups, the UK must support bold action on the legal and structural barriers that they face in accessing services and must seek to do so wherever it is most needed.

In low- and middle-income countries, men who have sex with men are 19 times more likely to have HIV than the general population, and people who inject drugs 22 times more likely. These populations are often criminalised and excluded, making it hard for them to access HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. Indeed harm reduction services for people who use drugs are often themselves illegal, while an increasing number of countries are clamping down on organisations which support LGBT people, accusing them of ‘promoting homosexuality’.

DFID proposes to deliver HIV services for these populations and other most affected groups primarily through increased contributions to the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria and UN agencies including UNAIDS and UNFPA. The Alliance strongly supports these commitments, but we believe that major legal reforms to remove the barriers are also needed. Lynne Featherstone also referenced plans to address stigma, discrimination and criminalisation through closer working between DFID, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Commonwealth institutions. It is vital that the Minister invests in ensuring that this pledge is realised.

This closer working with the FCO and the Commonwealth will become ever more critical particularly as DFID is continuing to pull out its bilateral HIV funding from many countries. The Alliance is concerned that all DFID’s bilateral HIV programmes in Asia will soon come to an end and the government has also announced plans to completely withdraw aid from a number of middle-income countries, most recently Vietnam, South Africa and India. AIDS-related illness remains a leading cause of death for women of reproductive age in South Africa, while India has concentrated HIV epidemics among men who have sex with men and sex workers. Until just a few years ago, the government of Vietnam detained people who use drugs in compulsory rehabilitation camps, where they face severe violations of their human rights.

“Middle-income country governments are not always willing or able to deliver HIV programmes which reach those most affected and DFID must adopt a transitional approach which builds the capacity of national governments to maintain a sustainable domestic HIV response that truly leaves no one behind,” explains Alliance Policy Manager, Mike Podmore, who attended the parliamentary event. “A key strategy is to support civil society organisations which not only provide HIV services for excluded groups but also play a vital role in campaigning for human rights and holding their governments to account.”

Read about the APPGA event from STOPAIDS.