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Decriminalising gay sex key to HIV fight, expert says

Decriminalising gay sex around the world is a key part of the fight against HIV/AIDS, according to leading British health figure Norman Fowler.

Homosexuality is still illegal in 68 countries around the world, and experts say that stigma and fear are preventing HIV testing.

Fowler, who served as Britain’s health minister during the 1980s AIDS crisis, will take up an ambassador position with UNAIDS this month, according to Reuters.

“[Laws against gay sex are] going to have a vast effect upon any population,” Fowler said.

“It means they don’t come forward for testing and it means that they come forward far too late for testing.”

Fowler oversaw Britain’s first HIV awareness campaigns, against resistance from conservatives including then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“[Thatcher’s] position was quite near to a number of the religious leaders who simply said, as much as they said anything, that we should be pursuing a ‘moral’ campaign,” he said.

In the 1980s, Fowler supported legislation banning the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality, a stance he has since said he regrets.

Despite rapid advances in prevention, testing, and treatment, more than 38 million people globally are living with HIV.

In developed countries including Australia, the HIV prevention pill PrEP has been credited with dramatic decreases in new diagnoses.

Fowler said that the current COVID-19 pandemic must not lead to complacency about the HIV crisis that is ongoing in many parts of the world.

“There’s a real danger that the world is going to forget about the crisis and problem of AIDS because obviously the COVID issue is foremost in people’s minds,” he said.

“But the fact is that AIDS – in spite of all the heroic efforts that have been made over the past 20 years – remains an enormous problem.

“The issue of AIDS remains a very central one, and although it may not be as evident in Europe, it certainly remains very evident in whole swathes of the world.”

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