Commission Context

Why the law matters

Nearly 37 million people are living with HIV, 2.1 million became newly infected in 2015, and 35 million have died since the start of the epidemic. The legal environment—laws, enforcement and justice systems—has immense potential to better the lives of HIV-positive people and to help turn the crisis around. Law prohibits or permits specific behaviours, and in so doing, it shapes politics, economics and society. International law and treaties that protect equality of access to health care and prohibit discrimination— including that based on health or legal status— underpin the salutary power of national laws.

GLOBAL AIDS UPDATE | UNAIDS 2016:


36.7 MILLION PEOPLE LIVING WITH HIV
1.9 MILLION ADULTS INFECTED WITH HIV EVERY YEAR SINCE 2010
43 PERCENT REDUCTION IN ANNUAL AIDS-RELATED DEATHS SINCE 2003
46 PERCENT OF ALL PEOPLE LIVING WITH HIV HAVE ACCESS TO TREATMENT

THE AIDS PARADOX

Community Context

How laws impact communities

Globally, new infections among key populations and their sexual partners accounted for 36% of all new HIV infections in 2015. Criminalization and stigmatization of same-sex relationships, cross-dressing, sex work and drug possession and use block access to HIV prevention services and increases risky behaviours. Homophobia drives gay men and other men who have sex with men away from HIV testing and HIV prevention activities and is associated with lower adherence to treatment. Women in key populations face specific challenges and barriers, including violence and violations of their human rights.

% Distribution of new HIV infections by population, global, 2014

  • Sex workers
  • People who inject drugs
  • Gay men and other men who have sex with men
  • Transgender people
  • Clients of sex workers and other sexual partners of key populations
  • Rest of population

Our perspective

Many would say that the law can be complex and challenging and is best left alone. Our experience during this Commission has shown us a very different perspective. We have been encouraged by how frank and constructive dialogue on controversial issues can sometimes quickly lead to progressive law reform, the effective defence of legislation or better enforcement of existing laws. Even in environments where formal legal change is a slow and arduous process, we have witnessed countries taking action to strengthen access to justice and challenge stigma and discrimination. -Fernando Henrique Cardoso Chair, Global Commission on HIV and the Law