Laws that criminalise gay behaviour are among a host of legal tangles that waste resources and hinder an effective response to HIV/AIDS worldwide, an independent commission reported.
The report by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law also pointed to laws that make sex work a crime, laws that prevent interventions with injecting drug workers, and legislation that denies the youth access to sex education.
"Too many countries waste vital resources by enforcing archaic laws that ignore science and perpetuate stigma," said former president of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who serves as chair of the commission.
"We have a chance to free future generations from the threat of HIV. We cannot allow injustice and intolerance to undercut this progress," he added.
The commission is made up of former heads of state and top global experts in the human immunodeficiency virus, which has infected 35 million people worldwide. The panel is supported by the United Nations Development Program.
Its report is based on "extensive research and first-hand accounts from more than 1000 people in 140 countries," the commission said in a statement.
Other key woes include laws and customs that deny the rights of women and girls, from genital mutilation to denial of property rights to allowing marital rape, because such practices can undermine their ability to negotiate safe sex.
Seeking a better approach
More than 60 countries make it a crime to expose another person to HIV, which can discourage people who think they may be infected from getting tested to find out their status.
In addition, complicated intellectual property restrictions can make it impossible to provide low-cost AIDS drugs to people in need.
The report singled out several countries by name, including Iran and Yemen which impose the death penalty for homosexual acts; and Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Malaysia and the Philippines for criminalising interventions for drug users.
Better approaches are seen in Switzerland and Australia, where programs to provide clean needles to injecting drug users have "almost completely stopped new HIV infections" in that group, the report said.
(Sapa, July 2012)
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