New U.S. Stamp Honors Harvey Milk, Who Championed LGBT Rights

June 1, 2014

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harvey-milk-stampA stamp honoring human rights activist Harvey Milk was dedicated at the White House May 22. Milk (1930–1978) became one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

His achievements inspired the LGBT community in the United States and elsewhere at a time when its members experienced widespread hostility and discrimination.

Milk’s political career was tragically cut short less than a year after he took office when he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated on November 27, 1978. In 2009, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama.

The stamp image shows Milk in front of his San Francisco camera store around 1977.

At the dedication, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power said that while President Obama is identified with two words — hope and change — “it is hard to think of words that more succinctly describe Harvey Milk the leader, the activist, the fighter, the elected official.”

“Hope and change,” Power said, are about envisioning “a world that is fairer, kinder, more just — not just for some people, but for all people.”

The HARVEY MILK® image is licensed by the Harvey Milk Foundation.

Source: IIP Digital | U.S. Department of State

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Inmate Counseling and Better Policies Key to Reducing Risky Behavior

Posted by: Mark Breda, U. S.  Agency for International Development (USAID/Ukraine)

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DSC_0279It is New Year’s Eve at a prison in Ukraine and men stand around in a large cell, sharing a single blunt, filthy syringe as they mutilate their arms to inject drugs. “The scene is typical of Ukrainian prisons,” explained an ex-inmate who wished to remain unnamed.

In Ukraine, prison inmates often participate in risky behaviors that contribute to the spread of HIV. Some prisoners use old syringes over and over. Others manufacture their own injecting tools using pens and plastic tubes. Still others tattoo their bodies using non-sterile instruments or have unprotected sex with fellow inmates or visitors.

A recent USG funded survey of 1,300 prison inmates shows that HIV prevalence among inmates is more than 13 percent (10 percent among men and 33 percent among women), 20 times higher than in the general population. Forty-four percent of those surveyed reported injecting drugs during their lives and 17 percent admitted using drugs while in prison.

The state penitentiary service in Ukraine has been slow to implement Ukraine’s National AIDS policies.  Only 60 of Ukraine’s 183 prisons receive HIV/AIDS treatment supplies.  Poor prison conditions and abusive practices by prison staff increase inmate vulnerability to infection and sometimes obstruct treatment for HIV positive prisoners.  Harm reduction services such as syringe exchanges, opiate substitution therapy, and even HIV testing are either not available or offered inconsistently.

After leaving prison, injecting drug users face challenges that may lead them to transmit HIV; many have no home, no job, and poor knowledge of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

USG is partnering with the government of Ukraine and other international donors to address these tough issues with a two-pronged approach, and things are slowing beginning to change.

DSC_0880First, USG’s Project Start is collaborating with Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice to implement a HIV/STI/Hepatitis C risk-reduction program for inmates who are soon to be released. It begins two months before they leave prison and continues for three months after their release. The program includes seven one-on-one sessions with each client, providing a range of counseling and prevention strategies tailored to each individual.

Second, USG’s PLEDGE Project, implemented in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, is promoting systemic change in Ukraine’s penitentiaries by advocating new harm-reduction policies through Ukraine’s legislature and directly with prison authorities.

Through USG efforts on the legislative side, a Joint Order for the treatment of detained persons was recently created with Ukraine’s Ministries of Health, Interior, and Justice.  Also with USG support, Ukraine developed and approved a comprehensive National Anti-Drug Strategy. The strategy demonstrates a shift from previously repressive measures to a more human-rights-based approach for people who inject drugs, promoting increased coverage and accessibility for syringe exchanges, opiate substitution therapy and integrated services to address HIV/TB, Hepatitis C, and other related diseases.

Finally, USG, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program and UNAIDS, has developed comprehensive HIV services for pilot prisons, including education about drug use for prisoners and prison staff.

This past July Serhiy Zinchenko, head of the Ukraine State Penitentiary Service Personnel Department, expressed the government’s new found support for a comprehensive approach to HIV/AIDS when he stated “We now understand the need to improve the situation in this sphere. It is important to learn international standards for treatment of prisoners, in particular related to their right to health care.”

A Message of Hope on World AIDS Day

By Sandra Bird, Health Officer, USAID

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Red Ribbon Memorial
Red Ribbon Memorial

Prior to joining the Foreign Service at USAID, I worked on global HIV/AIDS issues at both governmental and nongovernmental organizations.  My first project site visit was more than a decade ago, but I can recall it vividly even now.  It was my first trip to Africa, and I was excited to experience firsthand what I had only read about in reports.  On the second day in Kenya, my colleagues and I headed to Kibera, a slum district of Nairobi and the largest slum area in Africa.  Walking through Kibera from house to house, we visited beneficiaries of HIV/AIDS programs.  We stopped to talk to a young woman whom I will call Grace (not her real name) who told us that she was infected with HIV and tuberculosis.  Grace was raising four children on her own; her husband had left them when she told him that she was HIV-positive.  Despite these hardships, Grace showed so much courage, determination and optimism for herself and her children.  We were all very touched by Grace’s story—one that I still hold close to me.

Now as a first-tour Health Officer in Ukraine, I am eager to continue learning about HIV/AIDS issues in the context of this fascinating country.  Ukraine is experiencing the most severe HIV/AIDS epidemic in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, with an HIV prevalence rate of 0.76 percent in adults aged 15-49 in 2011.  For almost a decade, the United States Government (USG) and the Government of Ukraine (GOU) have partnered to combat HIV/AIDS.  Specifically, the USG supports efforts to reduce the transmission and impact of HIV/AIDS by raising awareness, expanding access to quality prevention, treatment, care and support services for HIV/AIDS patients and those most at risk, and developing the capabilities of public and nongovernmental organizations to plan, manage and evaluate HIV/AIDS programs.  I feel grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing work of USG and GOU in this important health area.

Working Together for an AIDS-Free Generation is the theme of World AIDS Day this year. On this World AIDS Day, let us not only recognize those infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS, but understand that HIV/AIDS impacts all of us in one way or another.  With continued efforts of the global community to fight HIV/AIDS, there remains the hope—the same hope that Grace had for her children and their future—for an AIDS-free generation.