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Discrimination, Gender Inequality Challenge HIV/AIDS Prevention Efforts in South Asia

July 15, 2004

Discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS and gender inequality remain the two most formidable challenges to HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in South Asia, according to a satellite session on Tuesday at the XV International AIDS Conference, according to a UNAIDS release. "There are two epidemics spreading -- AIDS, and the stigma against people living with HIV," Zahir Uddin Swapon, secretary general of the Parliamentary Group on HIV/AIDS and a member of Bangladesh's parliament, said. Participants at the session, which was organized by the UNAIDS South Asian Intercountry Team and South Asia's Theme Group on HIV/AIDS, said that to counter the stigma of the disease, nations must protect the rights of people with HIV/AIDS, form partnerships between health and education sectors and amend laws criminalizing marginalized groups vulnerable to the disease. In addition, Dr. Nafis Sadik, special envoy to the U.N. secretary general for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific and chair of the session, said that women in South Asia "have less opportunity to protect themselves" from the disease. Data suggest a close link between the status of women and their vulnerability to HIV, according to the release. Kathleen Cravero, deputy executive director of UNAIDS, said, "Until women and girls have equal access to effective HIV prevention and treatment services, there is little hope to beat the epidemic" (UNAIDS release, 7/13).

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