Congress Takes Aim at Discrimination in Global AIDS Relief

Discrimination and the denial of the rights of marginalized populations has been a driving feature of the AIDS pandemic since the disease first surfaced nearly three decades ago. Many have taken valiant steps to combat this discrimination. Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee took a significant step that will further the struggle for equality through an important directive it issued for the US?President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).A little background. In this second phase of PEPFAR, the US government and partner countries sign what are called Partnership Frameworks, which establish respective roles and responsibilities in fighting AIDS in these countries. In December 2009, PHR released an analysis of some of the first Partnership Framework agreements and found they were generally quite weak with respect to critical aspects of fighting discrimination against women, people with disabilities, and other marginalized populations. Specifically, the agreements largely neglected the legal and policy reforms required to ensure legal equality for these groups and to enforce the laws that protect their rights. The frameworks also generally failed to address the stigmatization and discrimination that they face within the health sector.?This is despite what genuinely appears to be a strong commitment of the US government, including the Office of the US Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC), to combat stigma and discrimination.Congress has now instructed that Partnership Framework agreements and other key PEPFAR country planning documents do a better job of fighting discrimination. In its report accompanying its fiscal year 2011 foreign operations appropriations bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee issued a directive to OGAC about how to spend the funds that Congress is appropriating:

The Committee welcomes the emphasis in PEPFAR’s 5-year strategy on addressing stigma and discrimination against most-at-risk populations and violations of the rights of women, and directs OGAC to address the needs for legal and policy reform and the enforcement of such policies in Partnership Frameworks, Partnership Framework Implementation Plans, and Country Operational Plans.

The Committee further required that civil society have a meaningful role in developing these plans—something that had been happening in some countries, but not others.

The Committee also directs OGAC to ensure civil society is fully engaged in developing these frameworks and plans, including most at-risk populations and women’s organizations. The Committee directs OGAC to consult with the Committee on these efforts.

While the struggle for equality continues, we now have one more vehicle to help us.

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