December 5, 2014 at 9:00 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Rajiv Shah: Human rights essential to fight against HIV/AIDS

Rajiv Shah, USAID, gay news, Washington Blade

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development on Thursday said protecting human rights is essential to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“Getting to where we need to go to a genuine AIDS-free generation will perhaps require even more determination, innovation and capacity to link the fight against HIV and AIDS to a broad range of critical issues, including the very basic and unassailable fight for human rights for all individuals,” said Rajiv Shah during a speech at the D.C. offices of FHI 360, a global development organization.

Shah made his remarks during a day-long World AIDS Day forum that highlighted a USAID-backed initiative through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to fight the global epidemic among men who have sex with men, transgender people and other disproportionately affected groups.

The Linkages Project, which was awarded to FHI 360 in July, seeks to work with local service providers and officials throughout the world to prevent new HIV infections among at-risk groups. It also hopes to increase access to care these populations that is free of stigma and discrimination.

The project will cost $73 million over five years.

FHI 360 will work with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and two global HIV/AIDS and health advocacy groups — Pact and IntraHealth International — to implement it.

“The only way to achieve the end goal of an AIDS-free generation is to more systematically embrace and empower this broader range of partners in this fight,” said Shah.

An estimated 35 million people around the world currently live with HIV.

George Ayala, executive director of the Global Forum on MSM and HIV, noted during the forum that trans women are 49 times more likely to live with the virus than other adults who are reproductive age.

He said the U.S., Canada, Russia and Australia are among the 61 countries with laws that criminalize people with the virus. Lisa Carty, director of the U.S. Liaison Office of U.N. AIDS, said roughly 80 countries have some sort of policy or statute that is a “barrier to the communities we care about to get the services they need.”

The State Department on Monday announced a $210 million public-private partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates and Nike Foundations through PEPFAR that is designed to reduce new HIV infections in girls and young women in 10 countries. It also unveiled an additional $116.5 investment to bolster African nations’ health care systems.

The Pan-American Social Marketing Organization, a PEPFAR-funded project that USAID administrators, in 2013 disseminated through the Internet information on HIV testing, condom use and other safer-sex practices to more than 7,000 men who have sex with men in six Central American countries. A second USAID-administrated program through PEPFAR that uses social media to disseminate HIV-prevention information reached in 2012 an estimated 92 percent of gay and bisexual Ghanaian men.

USAID in 2009 and 2010 hired nearly a dozen men from three Latin American countries to covertly undermine the Cuban government through an HIV prevention workshop, among other means.

“I am appalled by recent reports that the U.S. government orchestrated and funded clandestine democracy promotion efforts under the guise of public health and civic programs,” said U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who co-chairs the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, in a statement after the Associated Press broke the story in August. “I am particularly concerned by the revelation that HIV-prevention programs were used as a cover. This blatant deception undermines U.S. credibility abroad and endangers U.S. government supported public health programs, which have saved millions of lives in recent years around the world.”

Shah made no reference to Cuba during his speech.

“Efforts that we will discuss today and take forward will help not only address HIV in marginalized populations, but will help society after society through that experience recognize that the universal reach of human rights is in our collective social and national security interest,” he said.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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