International AIDS Conference, Melbourne, 22 July, 2014
My thanks go to the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development for co-hosting this event today with UNDP.
The 2013 UNAIDS report on HIV and AIDS in Asia and the Pacific shows that while important gains have been made in the region's response to the epidemic, significant challenges remain. According to the report, an estimated 4.9 million people were living with HIV in Asia and the Pacific in 2012.
Many countries in the region have laws, policies and practices which drive stigma and discrimination and hamper access to HIV services. For example, some 37 countries in the region criminalize some aspects of sex work, eighteen criminalize same sex behaviour, and eleven incarcerate injecting drug users in compulsory drug detention centres. All these measures hinder people from accessing HIV services. Some eleven countries, territories, and areas in Asia and Pacific still have in place some type of HIV-related restriction on entry, stay, and/or residence.
How, then, can these challenges be addressed? The evidence analysed by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law between 2010-2012 led it to conclude that a nation's legal framework is of great importance in the effectiveness of its HIV response. Legal systems which encourage openness and transparency, promote comprehensive anti-discrimination codes, and treat consensual behaviour by adults in private as a matter beyond the reach of the criminal code tend to have much greater success in dealing effectively with HIV.
My experience in New Zealand's Parliament, over 27.5 years, supports these findings. When I first took office, New Zealand's statute book would not have been viewed favourably by the Global Commission.
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