While unreached populations challenge HIV response successes, Malawi High Court to review sodomy laws

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CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE: Malawi High Court schedules hearing to consider convictions “based on the constitutionality of section 153(a) of the Penal Code (the section addressing “unnatural offences” with a punishment of up to 14 years “with or without corporal punishment.”

When three stories from widely diverse sources address the same topic in the same week, they provide a glimpse of problems viewed from different angles, and perhaps a glimpse of progress.

In this case, the day after this article from Reuters asked Could Concentrated HIV epidemics make AIDS unbeatable? a PBS feature story explored The HIV rebound nobody is discussing, asking “Is an AIDS-free generation on the horizon? Not without the help of sex workers and other marginalized ‘key populations’ public health officials say.”

The Reuters article quotes Michel Kazatchkine, now U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe, saying that as encouraging as advances against AIDS have been, continued and increasingly disproportionate impact of the epidemic among “hard-to-reach-populations,” including men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers are alarming. He gives the example of two injecting drug users with HIV he had met, a quarter century apart, with life-saving equally inaccessible to both — the first because treatment did not yet exist, the second because punitive laws kept it out of reach. The solution, he points out, would be to make the “hard-to-reach” populations easier to reach by drawing attention to the structural barriers to service that surround them.

The PBS story, which was gathered by a reporter traveling to Tanzania with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS Tuberculosis and Malaria, zeroes in on efforts to address barriers to services for sex workers.

In the meantime, a dispatch from Open Society Initiative South Africa updated news from Malawi, where the High Court has launched a review of the country’s sodomy laws. While noting that the review is likely to inspire an uptick in hate rhetoric, the dispatch also notes the move is particularly significant because the court, an apolitical body, initiated the move. And, it notes, a ruling to overturn the law will send “a clear signal that everyone enjoys the same human rights.” Stay tuned — the hearing begins Dec. 2, and is sure to get attention. The idea of ridding Malawi of anti-gay laws has earlier been raised by President Joyce Banda, and Malawi is a country that has taken first steps before to get ahead of its HIV epidemic, becoming the first to adopt the strategy known as Option B+, making antiretroviral treatment available for life for all pregnant women with HIV.

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