Blood Donation Ban Fueled by Fear, Not Science, Miyashita Ochoa Says

Adjunct Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Ayako Miyashita Ochoa was featured in a Men’s Health article discussing the impact of the longstanding ban on blood donations from gay men. The country’s blood supply is running dangerously low, partly due to the cancellation of many blood drives during the pandemic. Gay and bisexual men, often referred to as men who have sex with men (MSM), are not allowed to give blood if they have had sex with another man in the past three months. A 2014 report by the Williams Institute at UCLA found that allowing MSM equal access to donating blood could increase the total annual blood supply by 2% to 4%, which would help save the lives of more than a million people. Miyashita Ochoa expressed frustration that the ban still has not been lifted. “It is my opinion that we continue to have a real problem with laws and regulations based on fear rather than science,” she said.

Examining the Science Behind Decriminalizing Sex Work

Governments have cited protection of public health as a rationale for outlawing sex work, yet evidence shows that decriminalizing the trade increases health and safety and reduces the risk of disease, according to a new policy brief from researchers at UCLA. Released on International Sex Worker Rights Day, the brief reviews global data showing that the public health justification for criminalization and regulation of sex work is not supported by science. “There is scant evidence that criminalizing the sex trade has any positive effects on public health and the health of sex workers,” the brief states. Instead, it cites empirical studies linking criminalization to a rise in sexually transmitted infection and HIV transmission, as well as an increased risk of violence against sex workers. The authors draw a distinction between sex work, which is consensual, and sex trafficking, which is based on force, fraud or coercion or involves the participation of minors. The policy brief calls for further study on how laws and policies related to the sex trade can improve public health. While decriminalization may not fully eliminate the stigma and victimization of sex workers, the authors argue that “by removing criminal liability from the picture, approaches that seek to integrate sex workers into society can advance both human rights and labor rights of communities made vulnerable by multiple systems of oppression.” The policy brief was issued by researchers from UCLA’s Center for HIV Identification, Prevention and Treatment Services, Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center and Global Lab for Research in Action in partnership with the Sex Workers Outreach Project — Los Angeles.


Luskin Summit Looks at Sexual Health in the COVID-19 Era

The sixth Luskin Summit webinar, “Sexual Health: Hooking Up With Home-Based Testing and Telemedicine,” featured a panel of experts in health care, medicine, research and policy. Moderator Ayako Miyashita Ochoa, adjunct assistant professor of social welfare, explained that while the COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges for health care delivery, it has also served as an opportunity to integrate remote practices into sexual health care services. Associate Professor of Social Welfare Ian Holloway highlighted the resilience of sexual health care providers in their ability to pivot to remote care during the pandemic. “Telehealth is here to stay,” he said. Leah Millheiser, senior vice president of medical affairs for the telemedicine company Hims & Hers, noted that many patients who avoided physician offices out of fear of judgment or embarrassment are now taking advantage of telehealth services. Sonali Kulkarni, medical director of the Division of HIV/STD Programs for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said that testing is an essential part of the strategy to address rising rates of sexually transmitted diseases. According to Holloway, physical distancing measures in place around the world have had a significant impact on the mental health of gay and bisexual men. Alex Garner of the Gay Sexuality and Social Policy Initiative at UCLA Luskin has been working on ways to promote and provide public health information on gay social networking apps while still respecting them as unique, cultivated spaces for men to connect with one another and to mitigate experiences of loneliness and isolation during the pandemic. — Zoe Day

Miyashita Ochoa on HIV Criminalization Laws

A Body Pro article about the human rights and public health implications of laws targeting HIV-positive and LGBTQ populations cited Ayako Miyashita Ochoa, adjunct assistant professor of social welfare. In California, people living with HIV can be prosecuted for specific offenses, Miyashita Ochoa explained. These laws are most likely to be enforced in marginalized communities, she said, noting that sex workers account for 95% of HIV-related prosecutions in the state. In addition, Miyashita Ochoa, who is also associate director of the UCLA California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center, interviewed filmmaker and activist Marco Castro-Bojorquez about the role of HIV criminalization data in shifting the policy landscape. Human rights advocates are working to modify or repeal laws that single out people living with HIV while continuing to criminalize the behavior of people who intend to harm or infect others.

Taking the Border Crisis to Heart Team from UCLA Luskin Social Welfare counsels mothers and children seeking asylum in the United States

Team from UCLA Luskin Social Welfare travels to immigrant detention center in Texas to counsel mothers and children seeking asylum in the U.S.