Giancarlo de Vera
The United Nations agency spearheading the global response to HIV/AIDS today lauded India’s efforts to provide prevention and treatment services for men who have sex with men and transgender people, while stressing the need to scale up services and eliminate homophobia.
India’s AIDS response has resulted in a drop in new HIV infections by more than 50 per cent in the last decade, according to a news release issued by the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). In addition, around 67 per cent of the more than 400,000 men who have sex with men in India are currently accessing prevention services.
“India’s rich tradition of inclusivity and social justice must include men who have sex with men and transgender people,” said Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director, speaking on the sidelines of the National Convention of Parliamentarians and elected representatives.
“India’s successful AIDS response has been possible due to the strong participation of communities of men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who inject drugs and transgender people backed by a strong and progressive national AIDS policy,” he stated.
HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men in India is about 7.3 per cent compared to a prevalence rate of 0.31 per cent among the general adult population, according to estimates by the National AIDS Control Organization.
During the inauguration of the National Convention, which opened yesterday, the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, reiterated his Government’s strategy to provide HIV services to groups at higher risk of infection.
UNAIDS welcomed the Prime Minister’s call to have an “HIV-sensitive” policy and programmes so that marginalized groups affected by the virus are not denied the benefits of health and development programmes.
Guidelines recently released by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that legislators and other government authorities establish anti-discrimination and protective laws to eliminate discrimination and violence faced by men who have sex with men and transgender people.
Two years ago, in a move hailed by UNAIDS, the Delhi High Court overturned a 150-year-old law and decriminalized homosexuality.
The agency has pledged to work with the Government, civil society and community groups in realizing the vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths in India.