Council Commentary

Capitol Hill Briefing: Public Health Impact of Emerging Laws in Africa on the Possibility of an AIDS-Free Generation

Through PEPFAR and other US Government funding, significant progress has been made in slowing the spread of HIV and AIDS throughout Africa. However, US progress toward creating an AIDS-free future may be compromised by anti-LGBT laws recently passed in Uganda and Nigeria. These laws further marginalize populations at the highest risk of HIV infection  rendering them even harder to reach with prevention, care, and treatment services. The potential impact on the HIV epidemic is considerable.

As the United States determines its response to these harmful new laws, it is critical to have a full understanding of their threat to public health. On April 3rd, the Population Council, in partnership with Representative Barbara Lee’s (D-CA) office, held a briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, focused on the laws and the possible implications for HIV services.

“Now, after reaching a point when we can visualize an AIDS-free future, we are dealing with laws we expect will have very serious consequences,” said Naomi Rutenberg, vice president and director, HIV and AIDS, during the briefing. “We have already seen a dramatic decline in the number of men coming to clinics in Nigeria. In Kenya, clinics based in Mombasa and Kisumu are reporting that the number of men who have sex with men seeking services has dropped significantly. If we are going to make progress against HIV, we have to develop policies that create—not limit—access to services for everyone, especially vulnerable populations.”

Dr. Rutenberg also pointed out that continuing to provide services for men who have sex with men, even in increasingly stigmatized environments, needs to be a top priority. (Read more in a blog Rutenberg wrote for Science Speaks.)

“The public health impact of emerging laws in Africa: What does this mean for an AIDS-free generation?” included remarks from Representative Lee, on-the-ground perspectives from Nigeria and Uganda, and considerations for PEPFAR and other US investments that address the HIV epidemic. Panelists also discussed HIV programs that have worked in highly stigmatized settings, and the urgent need to continue to provide HIV services for at-risk populations.

Science Speaks covered the briefing in the April 4 edition of its blog. Read and share the post for a recap of the discussion.

HIV services derailed in wake of Nigeria, Uganda laws panelists say, Science Speaks, April 4, 2014