Report card: Canada failing to protect women from HIV
Published Tuesday, July 24, 2012 1:02PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, July 24, 2012 5:50PM EDT
The federal government gets a failing grade for refusing to support Canadian women and girls in the fight against HIV/AIDS, according to a new report card.
The Coalition for a Blueprint for Action on Women and Girls and HIV/AIDS says funding cuts to Aboriginal health groups, the National Association of Women and other important health groups are stalling the fight against the AIDS epidemic.
As well, the group says that tax money has been wasted on fighting efforts to decriminalize sex work, and prosecuting people living with HIV for sex without disclosure.
Louise Binder, a retired HIV-positive lawyer who is a founding member of the Blueprint Coalition, says she finds the latter problem the most egregious waste of money.
“We have the highest rate of criminalization of people with HIV for allegedly putting people at risk for sexual contact without advising them of their HIV status,” Binder told CTV News Channel Tuesday.
“When one looks at the facts of many of these cases, no one was in fact infected, both parties knew the situation, condoms were used, people had really negligible levels of virus in their system. So you have a no-crime crime that people have turned into a crime.”
Binder says that many people with HIV are now living by a new mantra: no test, no arrest. That means they’re not bothering to get tested for HIV because they don’t want to risk arrest for having sex with someone who’s not HIV-positive.
The Coalition says there are other problems that are slowing the fight against HIV spread. They note that no prisons in Canada offer needle and syringe programs, for example, even though there is plenty of evidence that such programs reduce the risk of disease transmission.
They also say a pilot project for safe tattooing in federal prisons had effective results but was discontinued, even though the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Correctional Investigator both called on the government to continue to offer these harm reduction measures.
The group is also angry with the newly passed Safe Streets and Communities Act, which it says will result in more women, many of whom are mothers, being imprisoned for longer.
The group notes that the majority of female prisoners have lived with physical and/or sexual abuse, and often struggle with mental health and substance use issues.
“They need therapies, support and access to proven prevention options like harm reduction, not longer time behind bars,” Claudia Medina, the Women’s Prison Program Coordinator at Prisoners with HIV/AIDS Support Action Network said in a statement.
The women’s group released its report card in Washington, where thousands of delegates are meeting this week at a major international AIDS conference.
On Monday, two B.C.-based AIDS specialists, Dr. Evan Wood and Dr. Julio Montaner, said they have joined an international campaign called the Vienna Declaration, which called on world leaders to stop the spread of AIDS by ending the so-called war on drugs.
Wood says that while HIV infection rates are falling around the globe, the number of cases appears to be rising in countries with aggressive policies for prosecuting drug-related crimes.
He noted that injection drug use accounts for one-third of new HIV infections (outside of Sub-Saharan Africa), and the data clearly show that HIV is spreading among prison inmates who mainline drugs.
He added that there’s a growing recognition that addiction should be treated more as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.
Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq defended her government’s efforts to battle HIV/AIDS.
"Our government is committed to addressing HIV/AIDS in Canada and is providing record amounts of funding to support research, vaccine development, public awareness, prevention, treatment, and support," the Health Ministry said in a statement to The Canadian Press.