World Aids Day: IDLO launches first virtual network on HIV-related legal services in Latin America and booklet on HIV and the law in Benin

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Rome, Italy – On December 1, IDLO launched the Community of Practice for Latin America (COPAL), an interactive web space for lawyers and activists to share information to improve legal services for people living with HIV and key affected populations. In Benin on 15 November the Justice Minister of Benin, Me Marie Elise Gbedo, launched the first booklet on HIV and the law in Benin (see photo).

In Latin America IDLO works in five countries (Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru) to improve access to quality HIV-related legal services. The COPAL will enable lawyers and activists to share experiences, for example in addressing HIV-related discrimination, including legislation and jurisprudence.

On 15 November 2011 IDLO and partners launched the booklet HIV and rights: what you need to know in Benin, West Africa. The publication is a joint initiative of the Benin Association for Law and Development (the local IDLO Alumni Association) and the Association of Women Lawyers, with financial and technical support from IDLO, UNAIDS and UNDP.

The booklet provides practical information about HIV and the law, and includes sections on HIV and human rights, respect for private life, the right to access to medical care, freedom of movement, employment rights, family law, inheritance, the right to access to education and social security, and HIV in prisons. This very handy and practical booklet is the first of its kind in Benin; 2500 copies have been printed and distributed. Two local radio stations will host programs in the ‘Fon’ national language on the themes developed in the booklet. Most importantly, legal services will be integrated into the Third National Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS.

The Benin Association for Law and Development (ABDD) and the Association of Women Lawyers provide legal information and advice to people living with HIV. Peer counseling sessions address the non legal concerns of clients, such as treatment adherence. Since June 2010, the services have conducted over 140 legal information sessions, mostly at HIV treatment centers. Over 200 persons have received legal advice and representation, including court hearings.

As David Patterson, Health Law Program Manager at IDLO put it, “Legal services are the weak link in the national response to HIV in many countries. Protective legislation, as exists in Benin, is meaningless without affordable, quality legal services to ensure people can access their rights. Lawyers and activists from countries with similar legal systems, as exist in Latin America, can benefit by sharing tips and strategies to protect rights and improve access to HIV prevention, care and support.”

Click here for the COPAL link.

The Health Law program is supported by the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), the development finance institution of OPEC member states. OFID provides financial support for socioeconomic development, particularly in low-income countries IDLO’s work in Latin America is co-funded by the Ford Foundation.