Brief overview of the National Dialogue on HIV and the Law in Panama, 5-6 December 2011Published on Tuesday, 06 December 2011 04:35 A National Dialogue on HIV and the Law was held on 5-6 December 2011, in Panama City, Panama. The national dialogue was convened by Red Nacional de Personas con VIH de Panamá (REDPA+), and was supported by UNDP Regional Service Centre for Latin America and the Caribbean (RBLAC) as a follow-up activity of the Latin America Regional Dialogue of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, held in June 2011, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Dr. Nimia de Vergara, on behalf of the First Lady of Panama – Mrs. Martinelli, opened the dialogue, followed by opening remarks from Freddy Justiniano, UNDP RBLAC, and Ricardo García on behalf of UNAIDS. Ariel Muñoz from REDPA+, and Ana Helena Chacón –Echeverría, Commissioner (Costa Rica), Global Commission on HIV and the Law, welcomed participants. On 6 December, Hugo Enrique Famania, a well-known national journalist, moderated the town-hall style dialogue, where more than 100 individuals from civil society and governments shared experiences, views, and innovative ways in which law and policy can effectively contribute to achieving better HIV, health and development outcomes. Many participants stressed the need to address complex legal frameworks (many laws, decrees, rules…), usually unknown to most people living with HIV and key actors. Young people were highly represented at the dialogue and requested the government to fulfill their rights to HIV prevention and information in schools by enacting the Mexico Ministerial Declaration “Prevent with Education”. Concerns were voiced about the lack of knowledge and capacities related to sexual and reproductive health and the impact on HIV and other STI rates. While sex work is no longer criminalized in Panama, sex workers shared their personal experiences dealing with police harassment, rape and other human rights violations. Police representatives encouraged participants to denounce abuses perpetrated by law enforcement officers in order to bring the cases to the highest level of officials and promote behavioral changes in the police. Finally, people living with HIV urged the need to remove compulsory HIV testing for accessing loans, mortgages, and job applications. The national dialogue in Panama has already generated promising developments in order to create enabling legal environments for people living with HIV and those most vulnerable to it, and strengthen HIV responses. So far, the following initiatives have been taken:
- The representative of the Ministry of Women Affairs committed to review the ministry policies and to address all legal gaps related to women’s rights and HIV;
- A list of recommendations has been sent by Parliamentarians to the Penitentiary System Director in order to provide prisoners living with HIV access to HIV prevention, care and support;
- Begin a process of reviewing all existing laws in Panama that have an impact on HIV responses with the involvement of a Supreme Court Advisor; and
- Engagement with the bank and insurance sectors to promote financial opportunities for People living with HIV such as mortgage loans, scholarships, etc., with an emphasis to remove mandatory HIV testing as a requirement to access bank loans, insurances, or even jobs; and
- The results of the national dialogue were presented to the President of the Parliament in early February 2012, and a follow-on Parliamentary sensitisation using the new toolkit “Legislate for an effective response to HIV” is scheduled for 30 March 2012.