Louisiana state laws and practices that prohibit access to sterile syringes and criminalize sex work contribute to an uncontrolled HIV epidemic and an extremely high AIDS death rate, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The AIDS death rate in Louisiana is more than double the US average. New Orleans police regularly interfere with sex workers who carry condoms, putting them and their clients at risk of HIV.
The 57-page report, “In Harm’s Way: State Response to Sex Workers, Drug Users, and HIV in New Orleans,”documents government violations of the right to health and other abuses of at-risk populations in New Orleans. It calls for changes in state and local laws and policies that stigmatize, discriminate against, and facilitate police abuse of sex workers and drug users, and interfere with health services for people at high risk for HIV. The report was released in advance of the third annual Southern Harm Reduction and Drug Policy Conference, which opens in New Orleans on December 12, 2013.
“The HIV epidemic in New Orleans is one of the worst in the US, and proven strategies for addressing it are being ignored,” said Megan McLemore, senior health researcher at Human Rights Watch and the report’s author. “People who use drugs can’t get clean needles, and police are confiscating condoms from sex workers and those suspected of sex work, such as transgender women.”