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Blocking the HIV fight 

Law enforcement, state law hinder progress

  Human Rights Watch released a report this month charging that New Orleans law enforcement agencies have mishandled cases with sex workers and intravenous drug users to the point where its tactics have stymied efforts by public health groups. The report — "In Harm's Way: State Response to Sex Workers, Drug Users and HIV in New Orleans" — says Louisiana not only has "utterly failed to implement harm-reduction methods proven to reduce HIV infections among people who inject drugs," but that sex workers and people suspected to be sex workers had reported harassment by NOPD officers simply for carrying condoms.

  Louisiana has the second highest rate of HIV infection in the U.S. and the fourth highest rate of AIDS among adults and children. Blacks comprise 73 percent of new HIV cases and 76 percent of new AIDS cases, and male-to-male sexual contact accounts for 63 percent of HIV cases and 61 percent of AIDS cases.

  Among the 169 people surveyed for the report, 74 percent were African-American, 24 percent made less than $5,000 a year and 73 percent were unemployed. Nearly half — 46 percent — had been arrested at some point for prostitution, while 75 percent had been to jail. Testing at Orleans Parish Prison found 43 new cases of HIV in 2012, which accounted for 10 percent of all new cases reported in New Orleans that year. According to the report, "jail inevitably interrupts the ability to take one's HIV medications on a regular basis. Reports from Orleans Parish Prison indicated delays ranging from two weeks to three months in commencing or resuming HIV treatment."

  NOPD released a statement in response, saying, "To date, we have no record of the allegations made in this report. The NOPD takes such allegations very seriously, and conducts thorough investigations into accused officers. Officers found to have violated departmental policy or law are disciplined, and in some cases, suspended or terminated."

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