Professor Sofia Gruskin, director of the Program on Global Health & Human Rights at the USC Institute for Global health, served as a member of the technical advisory group for a landmark report released July 9 by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, a high-level, independent body of global public leaders and field experts that launched in June 2010.
The report, “HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights & Health,” addresses how to effectively deal with HIV through human rights-based laws based on sound evidence. It follows 18 months of extensive hearings and consultations in every region of the world, and comes two weeks before the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.
The report’s findings deal with topics such as discrimination on the basis of HIV status, criminalization of transmission, sex work, drug use and intellectual property issues that interfere with access to medicines. It also examines the effects of current laws on key populations, including women, children, prisoners, migrants and the transgender community.
Despite its wide range of findings, a unifying theme arises from the report—bad laws and improper enforcement only exacerbate the HIV epidemic, but good laws, consistent with human rights norms, can overcome it.
The Global Commission on HIV and the Law based its findings on its three mutually reinforcing branches, a leadership commission, technical advisory group and series of regional dialogues.
As one of the 23 technical advisors for the report—and just one of a handful from the United States—Gruskin helped review the submissions, testimonies and peer-reviewed technical documents included in the report, as well as made recommendations and edits for the months leading up to the launch.
In the U.S., the report’s recommendations of legalizing personal drug use and consensual sex work may seem controversial to some, but Gruskin says the same could be said for all of the findings—it’s all relative.
“To some people in some countries, criminalizing rape in marriage may be seen as an overstep. For others, legalized drug use is the only sensible approach,” she said. “But that’s not what matters here—the evidence says it all. The research has been done and we know what we have to do to take on HIV; opinions just get in the way.”
The report may now be released and evidence compiled but it’s just the beginning, Gruskin said. “Now people have to act. Civil society needs to push governments and governments need to examine and change their laws. That’s how we’ll get real change.”
Read the report at www.hivlawcommission.org.