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Report of the Commission on AIDS in Asia and Policy Lessons for India

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On 30th June 2008, Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India will formally

receive the report of the independent Commission on AIDS in Asia ( " the

Commission " ) from Dr. C. Rangarajan, Chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the

Prime Minister and Head of the Commission.

Drawing on extensive studies, data review, specialist inputs and other

contributions, the report entitled - Redefining AIDS in Asia: Crafting an

Effective Response " is a first ever assessment of the epidemiology and impact of

HIV in Asia. Its lessons are timely; in light of impending policy change before

the Government of India.

Asian countries have a window of opportunity to avert large scale HIV

epidemics. Unlike Africa, HIV in Asia is concentrated among specific

population groups - sex workers and their clients, injecting drug users and men

who have sex with other men. Among these, unprotected paid sex is the primary

source of HIV infections in Asia including India.

According to the report, men buying sex are the single largest group infected

with HIV; with the potential of infecting wives, prospective wives and other

female partners, in other words, to the rest of the population.

At the same time, it is possible to break this chain of transmission by

implementing large scale prevention programs, covering more than 80% sex workers

and clients.

The Commission concludes that use of condoms in commercial sex will do more than

any other intervention to prevent HIV in Asia.

Countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and the state of Tamil Nadu have

successfully contained HIV through rigourous condom promotion in sex work.

The Commission attributes this to structural interventions, that is, condom use

policies in brothels and/or mobilization of sex workers - strategies supported

by definitive evidence.

The Commission also observes that in all jurisdictions, criminalization of sex

work nullifies effective HIV prevention.

Police clamp downs on sex work disrupt efforts to reach and inculcate safer

practices. Punitive practices were found unhelpful as they weaken sex workers'

organizing for health and prevention.

Effects of penal measures are already visible in Cambodia, where

a new law against sex work is severely undermining sex workers' health and civil


It is against these findings that the Commission advises Asian governments to

ensure HIV prevention among sex workers and clients.

It especially urges authorities to introduce pragmatic, non judgmental

interventions for men buying sex aimed at encouraging condom use. Alongside, the

Commission recommends a legal environment of decriminalization that supports

health and safety in sex work.

Contrary to this, the Government of India is considering Amendments to the

Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 ( " ITPA " ) that intensify criminal

sanctions against sex workers and clients. Despite objections from the Ministry

of Health and the National AIDS Control Organisation, ITPA Amendments have

neither been withdrawn nor sufficiently modified to address health concerns.

It is hoped that there will be more to today's event than rhetoric; that

findings and recommendations of the Commission will not be lost on the Prime

Minister and the Government of India.

Tripti Tandon

Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit

63/2, 1st Floor, Masjid Road

Jungpura, New Delhi 110014


Phone:+91-11-24377101/02, 24372237



E-MAIL: <tripti.tandon@...>

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