Scan of Law and Policies Affecting Human Rights, Discrimination and Access to HIV and Health Services by Key Populations in Pakistan was launched today at the Pakistan National Dialogue on HIV and the Law, a major gathering which brought together government, civil society, health sector and United Nations representatives in Islamabad. The report adheres to commitments under United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Resolutions 66/10 and 67/9 that call for removal of barriers to access to treatment and care.
“This assessment of HIV-related laws and policies identifies legal barriers to accessing health and HIV services for key populations and presents a set of recommendations that can help save lives, save money and help mitigate the AIDS epidemic in Pakistan,” said Marc-André Franche, Country Director, UNDP Pakistan. “I hope that lawmakers, law enforcement officials, National AIDS Programme officials and donors find this assessment a valuable tool to inform the development and implementation of an enabling legal environment for effective HIV and heath responses in Pakistan.
Marc Saba, Country Director for UNAIDS, reiterated that “unless we have an enabling environment for people living with HIV and at higher risk of HIV, it will be very hard to tackle this epidemic which continues to spread silently across the country. We must ensure that injustice and irrationality do not triumph and create obstacles to accessing prevention, treatment & care services.”
The report informs and encourages individuals and civil society organizations to claim their rights, and also provides needed guidance to policy and law makers, officials responsible for criminal justice, law enforcement officers, National AIDS Programme officials, and donors to develop and implement more effective HIV and health programmes in the country.
“Ample information is provided in this document for stakeholders to utilize in their planning processes and implementation mechanisms in a human rights perspective,” said Dr Abdul Baseer Achakzai, National AIDS Control Program, Government of Pakistan. “The report will help advocacy initiatives to engage in constructive and open dialogues to address punitive laws and policies targeting key populations in order to reduce the levels of social stigma, discrimination, violence and broader human rights violations. This will ultimately contribute in keeping the treatment cascade intact and reduce chances of failure of adherence.”
The government of Pakistan through their parliamentary representation, the Chairperson of Standing Committee on Cabinet Division, Senator Kalsoom Perveen and Ms. Zuhra Wadood Fatmi, Member of National Assembly, Standing Committee on Health reiterated their commitment for supporting relevant laws by the technical group including government partners, UN partners, CSOs and key populations. They further assured that all these legislations would be taken into account for effective implementation and the Parliament endorses the proposed action plan developed during this consultation. She further urged the donor agencies and UN partners to take into consideration the equitable resource management for HIV and AIDS.
The report highlights existing laws that affect access of key populations to health and HIV services both directly and indirectly. It takes into account the limitations of laws in terms of inclusiveness, relevancy, and implications on programmes focusing key populations in Pakistan.
According to the latest UNAIDS estimates, there are 68,000 people living with HIV in Pakistan. The HIV epidemic is primarily concentrated among key populations – men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender people, people who inject drugs and sex workers and. MSM and transgender people are at particularly high risk of contracting HIV risk because social stigma and punitive laws that criminalize same-sex sexual behaviour also create barriers to accessing health care, and make it difficult for health workers and organizations to reach MSM and transgender people with HIV prevention, treatment, care and support programming.
Scan of Law and Policies Affecting Human Rights, Discrimination and Access to HIV and Health Services by Key Populations in Pakistan builds upon the findings and recommendations of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law (2012) that established evidence-based laws and practices firmly grounded in human rights as powerful instruments for challenging discrimination, promoting public health and protecting human rights.
The document is also in line with various international commitments on health and human rights made by Pakistan, including the 2011 Political Declaration: Intensifying our Efforts to Eliminate HIV/AIDS, which called for governments to review laws and policies that adversely affect the successful, effective and equitable delivery of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support programmes to people living with and affected by HIV.
The report and national dialogue were supported by UNDP under the Multi-Country South Asia Global Fund HIV Programme (MSA-910-G02-H) and UNAIDS.