Today, nations around the globe are marking World AIDS day. This year’s theme is “universal access and human rights,” tying together goals for access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care with recognition that respect for human rights is critical in the global response to AIDS.

On the eve of World AIDS Day, Human Rights Watch said that HIV prevention efforts – and the promise of antiretroviral therapy as prevention – are being undermined by punitive laws targeting those infected with and at risk of HIV.

In many parts of the world, legislation effectively criminalises populations living with HIV or vulnerable to HIV infection, such as men who have sex with men. These laws fuel stigma and discrimination, increase barriers to HIV information and treatment, and contribute to the spread of disease, Human Rights Watch said.

The organisation highlighted Uganda’s proposed draconian anti-gay law which will further criminalise gays and lesbians in that country. It also said that since 2005, 14 countries in Africa have passed HIV-specific laws that potentially criminalise all sexual behaviour among HIV-positive individuals, including those who use condoms, regardless of disclosure and actual risk of transmission.

On Monday, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made her most definitive statement on that country’s stance on LGBT rights in Washington in a speech about the Obama administration’s efforts on HIV/AIDS.

“Obviously, our efforts are hampered whenever discrimination or marginalisation of certain populations results in less effective outreach and treatment,” she said. “So we will work not only to ensure access for all who need it, but also to combat discrimination more broadly. We have to stand against any efforts to marginalise and criminalise and penalise members of the LGBT community worldwide. It is an unacceptable step backwards on behalf of human rights. But it is also a step that undermines the effectiveness of efforts to fight the disease worldwide.”

The US Ambassador to South Africa Donald Gips further boosted the fight against the HI Virus with an announcement today that the US will commit R900 million over two years for anti-retroviral drugs in the country. This funding is reportedly over and above the R4.2 billion budgeted for the regular US government contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS in South Africa for the 2010 fiscal year.

In China, the government has taken an unexpected approach to targeting gay men in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It was announced that public funds are being used to finance the launch of a gay bar in Dali. Located in the Yunnan province, the city has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the country.

In an interview with the Beijing News, the club’s owner said that the venue, which is staffed by volunteers from a local HIV/AIDS prevention NGO, would serve as a means to reach gay men in the region with information on reducing HIV transmission. The bar is set to open today.

According to new research by the International Planned Parenthood Federation physical and verbal harassment is a common reality for people living with HIV in the UK. The findings of The People Living With HIV Stigma Index were presented by officials as well as singer Annie Lennox at the Houses of Parliament yesterday.

According to the report, 21% of people living with HIV had been verbally assaulted or harassed, while 12% had been physically harassed because of their HIV status in the previous 12 months.

On the scientific front, a Taiwanese researcher, Chieng-Ching Hung, has confirmed that a rare parasitic disease which is usually only found in parts of the developing world is being increasingly transmitted during sex between HIV-positive men.

The Entamoebia histolytica single cell parasite can cause bloody diarrhoea as well as abscesses in the liver and is thought to kill around 70 000 people around the world. Doctors in the developed world have been warned to look out for the parasite as it may begin to move further into regions where it was previously unknown thanks to the ease of international travel.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the World Health Organisation issued new guidelines on treatment against the HI virus, recommending that doctors start drug regimes a year or two earlier than previously recommended. New studies have shown that people who get treated earlier have a better chance of staying healthy and surviving.

The organisation recommended that treatment begin when a patient’s CD4 cell count is around 350, as opposed to the previously recommended level of 200. This could add an additional 3 to 5 million patients to those currently requiring AIDS drugs.

In South Africa Health-e has reported that the country is moving ever closer towards implementing a male circumcision plan in an effort to combat HIV infection rates.

The news service said that the plan “would have buy-in from all stakeholders and will go beyond being a purely medical intervention, ideally also engaging men on among others HIV prevention, gender issues and alcohol abuse.” It was reported that the National Department of Health has agreed to undertake a feasibility and costing exercise to offer medical male circumcision services within the public health system.

British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell marked World AIDS Day by calling for the blanket ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood in the UK to be scrapped, saying that it is “based on stereotyped, irrational, unscientific and homophobic assumptions.”

He noted that other countries have ditched their lifetime exclusion, including New Zealand, Spain, Italy, Japan and Australia. They allow some gay and bisexual men to donate blood, in certain circumstances.

“Since Spain and Italy ended their total gay ban, the number of HIV infections from contaminated blood donations has fallen. This seems to be because they eased the restrictions and, at the same time, educated the gay community about the new policy,” he said.

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