AIDS 2012 in Washington, D.C., is still a year away but a session at IAS 2011 brought to mind why the location of next year’s conference is so significant. It’s been 22 years since the U.S. hosted the conference, in San Francisco in 1990. When President Obama lifted national entry restrictions for people with HIV that paved the way for organizers to bring IAS back to the United States.
Discriminatory policies, stigma and criminalization are just a few of the challenges facing HIV-positive migrants worldwide and those who face particular risk for infection. Migrants in Asia, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa struggle with unique regional issues but they share common obstacles. Whether people migrant voluntarily in search of economic opportunity or are displaced by military conflicts or natural disasters they encounter significant barriers in accessing health services. Women are especially vulnerable when they suffer sexual violence, are forced into sex work for economic survival or have sex with men who have multiple partners.
Security rather than human rights has been the focus in dealing with HIV/AIDS and migrant populations. But as Rosilyne Borland of the International Organization for Migration pointed out, migration health is not the same as border health. Adopting mult-sectoral strategies to address migrant health and training migrants to be community health workers and peer educators were some of the responses identified as effective ways to address this critical distinction.
The focus away from security and toward human rights may shift with language in the latest political declaration on HIV/AIDS that came out of last month’s UN High-Level Meeting in New York. The document calls for a commitment to address “the vulnerabilities experienced by migrant and mobile populations and support their access to HIV prevention, care, treatment and support.” It also calls for a commitment of financial resources and evidence-based prevention measures to ensure that particular attention is paid to migrants and people affected by humanitarian emergencies among other key groups.
It may be a year until AIDS 2012 comes to Washington but it’s not too early to stress political will and honoring financial commitments as critical in addressing the realities faced by vulnerable populations.