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Punitive Laws Limit Access To HIV Services for MSM and Transgender People World-

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The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released a study analyzing evidence in Asia-Pacific on how punitive and discriminatory laws and human rights violations limit access to HIV prevention and care services are for men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) and transgender people. The study report "Legal environments, human rights and HIV responses among men who have sex with men and transgender people in Asia and the Pacific: An agenda for action" is co-published by the UNDP and Asia Pacific Coalition for male sexual health (APCOM).

There is an improving body of evidence that HIV prevalence rates are much higher in MSM and transgender people compared to those in general populations" said John Godwin, Human Rights Lawyer from Australia and key author of this study. According to the data in this study, HIV prevalence was up to 50% in MSM and transgender communities compared to low prevalence in general population.

HIV prevalence among transgender people in few major cities in Asia presented in this study is: 49% in Delhi (India), 42% in Mumbai (India), 37% in Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 34% in Jakarta (Indonesia), 30.8% in Bangkok (Thailand), and 29.3% in Yangon (Myanmar).

HIV prevalence rate among general population is obviously quite low in Asia-Pacific like India estimates it to be 0.2-0.3%.

According to the Commission on AIDS in Asia report released in 2008, by the year 2020, 50% of new HIV infections will be in MSM and transgender communities, said Shivanand Khan, who was conferred upon the Order of British Empire (OBE) by the British Queen in recognition of his contribution to HIV prevention among sexual minorities. Shivanand Khan is also the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Naz Foundation International (NFI). NFI is the first Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM) recipient for regional work in south Asia.

"Punitive laws and law enforcement practices exist in majority of countries. In Asia-Pacific, such punitive laws and law enforcement practices exist in 19 countries, and that doesn't include India which is awaiting Supreme Court confirmation of decriminalisation" said John Godwin.

"Interestingly where we have criminalisation (of same sex behaviour) we also have prioritisation" said John Godwin. The governments in Asia-Pacific increasingly include MSM in national policies and 22 countries in the region list MSM as a priority - "and also criminalise at the same time" said John Godwin.

"Countries that criminalise have English common law or Islamic Sharia traditions" said John Godwin. Sixteen countries that were British colonies in this region include: Bangladesh, Brunei, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Singapore, India, Sri Lanka, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Naura, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Samoa among others.

Speaking about indirect impact of criminalising policies, John Godwin said: "stigma drives MSM and transgender populations away from existing services as MSM and transgender people are reluctant to go to these services."

"Such punitive laws and law enforcement practices lends legitimacy to discriminatory and unethical healthcare practices" said John Godwin.

Two countries that have ended discrimination against MSM and transgender people in the region are Australia and New Zealand.

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