Today is the 21st annual World AIDS Day, held on December 1st each year to raise awareness of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic and to honor the memory of those who have died from HIV/AIDS and those who continue to live with the disease. This year’s World AIDS Day theme is Universal Access and Human Rights.

According to the World AIDS Campaign, the global incidence of HIV/AIDS is on the rise. There are over 33.4 million people living with HIV today and there were 2.7 million new cases in 2007. There were also a total of 2 million HIV-related deaths in 2007.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission is committed to combating stigma-based discrimination in HIV/AIDS healthcare for all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

Transgender people and men who have sex with men (MSM) are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS across the globe. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2005, over 71 percent of male adults and adolescents in the U.S. infected with HIV/AIDS were MSM. In Asia, MSM are 19 times more likely to acquire HIV infection than adults in the general population, and in China the odds are 45 times as high. Despite the vulnerability of high-risk LGBT populations, access to treatment, counseling, prevention and care is often denied to LGBT individuals because of discriminatory laws, policies and attitudes.

Similarly, international health care programming is not effectively targeting LGBT groups in need: In 2007, IGLHRC published a report analysing how the international funding community, governments, and NGOs fail LGBT people when HIV/AIDS programming does not address same-sex practicing people.

According to Michel Sidibé, the executive director of UNAIDS, the international community’s failure to address the health needs of LGBT people is not only a human rights travesty, but a public health crisis: “The failure to respond effectively has allowed HIV rates to reach crisis levels in many communities of men who have sex with men and transgender people.”

The World Health Organization has found that only 9 percent of men who have sex with men received any type of HIV prevention service in 2005 and UNAIDS has found that less than one percent of the HIV prevention needs of men who have sex with men were being met in 2006.

In a letter to Secretary of State Clinton sent on March 27, 2009, IGLHRC asked the Obama administration to increase funding to HIV programs for LGBT communities worldwide, and to discontinue funding anyone who perpetuates human rights abuses against LGBT people. The Global AIDS Coordinator’s office responded, affirming the administration’s commitment to addressing the HIV/AIDS needs of LGBT populations.

IGLHRC also continues to fight discriminatory laws that would accelerate the spread of HIV. Burundi is one of a few countries in Africa receiving funds from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) to expand their HIV intervention to include MSM. After Burundi’s National Assembly passed a provision criminalizing same-sex activity, IGLHRC and the Association pour le Respect et les Droits des Homosexuels (ARDHO) issued an appeal, asking the entire membership of Burundi’s Senate to vote against the legislation, arguing that it would accelerate the spread of HIV, by preventing MSM and other sexual minorities from accessing HIV prevention, treatment and care. On February 17, 2009, 36 out of 43 Senators voted to strike down the provision.

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Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill would effectively ban any kind of community or political organizing around non-heteronormative sexuality and would seriously compromise HIV prevention activities and treatment in Uganda, which rely on the ability to talk frankly about sexuality and provide condoms and other safer-sex materials.

Under international human rights law, everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Sexual and reproductive health is a fundamental aspect of this right and includes the right of full access to HIV/AIDS prevention, counselling, treatment and care. International organizations and national governments must take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to ensure that all sexual and reproductive health, education, prevention, care and treatment programmes and services respect the diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities, and are equally available to all without discrimination.
To ensure that LGBT people living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS have access to the resources they need, the international community must continue to pressure governments to uphold their national and international human rights obligations and to respect, protect, and promote the lives and dignity of HIV positive and LGBT people everywhere.