2 August 2018, Beijing--Legal aid services for people living with HIV are being strengthened as part of a national project to counter stigma and discrimination, provide opportunity for legal redress for rights violations and to improve access to HIV services.
A workshop was organized by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the China HIV/AIDS Information Network (CHAIN), through the UNDP HIV Legal Aid Project, to build capacity of community-based groups and strengthen partnerships with key stakeholders.
Access to legal aid services for people living with HIV and vulnerable populations is central to an effective HIV response. HIV-related legal services help to establish an environment that is supportive of HIV testing, treatment, prevention and care services, and contributes to good public health outcomes.
The workshop was attended by 25 representatives, including officials from the China HIV/AIDS Prevention Association, law professors from China University of Political Science and Law and China Women’s University, pro bono lawyers, UN agencies such as UNAIDS, UN Women, ILO and UNICEF, as well as 7 community-based organizations (CBOs).
The UNDP Legal Aid Project was built upon a community-based legal aid model initially developed by Yunnan Daytop Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre, which focuses on raising legal awareness, training and partnership-building for CBOs working with populations vulnerable to HIV infection such as men who have sex with men, transgender people, female sex workers and people who use drugs. In 2018, the project is receiving financial support from UBRAF – a UNAIDS instrument to maximize the coherence, coordination and impact of the UN's response to HIV and AIDS by combining the efforts of the UN Cosponsors and UNAIDS Secretariat. With this support, the project has increased the number of participating CBOs from five to seven, including two community groups who work with transgender people.
Participants at the workshop received updates on the latest developments in HIV prevention and treatment, including progress on vaccines, treatments and the epidemiological situation, from Wang Ruotao, who has served with both the China HIV/AIDS Prevention Association and National Center of AIDS/STD Control (NCAIDS) of China Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC). He suggested that community organizations develop a “legal way of thinking” if they want to conduct legal aid and advocacy work. He also discussed strategic litigation as another effective tool for advancing policy changes and raising awareness amongst the public.
During the workshop, representatives from CBOs shared their experiences working on legal aid and their current needs based on their previous experience.
Xueli, Director of Beijing Ray of Hope, which works with people who use drugs, commented, “Our organization is trying to help people who are HIV-infected drugs users. Because of the double stigma and discrimination against this group of people, rights infringements and hostile attitudes may come from law enforcement and media, and it is very difficult to defend their rights.”
Professor Guo Xiaofei from China University of Political Science and Law pointed out that some current policies and regulations are discriminating against people living with HIV. For example, people living with HIV are technically barred from serving government agencies due to mandatory physical exams that include testing for HIV.
Initial findings of a national survey on HIV-related employment and medical discrimination by ILO and CHAIN were shared with the group. The survey found that 86 percent of people surveyed reported having experienced discrimination in medical settings and 68 percent reported different forms of employment discrimination. Many people surveyed think that discrimination comes from a lack of understanding about HIV. The group discussed the findings and came up with a number of recommendations to be included in the report, as part of collaborative efforts to improve the draft before it is released.
The participating partner CBOs are planning to reach more than 3,000 people who are affected by HIV with legal aid services, raise awareness among community members about their rights, and develop capacity to identify and document the occurrence of individual rights abuses.
As such, this project is part of the broader sustainable development work of UNDP China, and its efforts to eliminate all forms of inequality and strengthen the welfare of vulnerable groups in China.
The Project is well welcomed by community groups. As one community participant put it: “It is a great pleasure to attend today's workshop. HIV has always been a difficult issue we have to face in our work. Today's activities are very enlightening. We hope that we can put our recommendations to action and unite more stakeholders to improve the existing environment for people living with HIV.”
Going forward, UNDP will continue to cooperate closely with CBOs as they develop capacity-building plans and activities and will also support CBOs focusing specifically on HIV interventions as they begin to implement their own legal services at the local level by issuing small grants to support such effort.
The UNDP HIV Legal Aid Project is a one-year project implemented by UNDP in partnership with China HIV/AIDS Information Network (CHAIN), National Center of AIDS/STD Control, China Center for Disease Control and Prevention (NCAIDS/STD, China CDC), International Labour Organization (ILO), and seven community organizations: Beijing Ray of Hope, Tianjin Xin’ai, Tianjin Deep Blue, Shenyang Consultation center AIDS ALD and Health Service, Yunnan Parallel, Shanxi Landian and Shanghai Youth AIDS Health Center. The project is co-financed by UNAIDS.