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Sunday, June 11, 2006
AIDS is no longer just a disease. It is a human rights issue,
By: Nelson Mandela

AFTER TWENTY YEARS, the global pandemic is still expanding. More than forty million people are living with HIV/AIDS. In 2005, five million people were newly infected, and three million died of AIDA. Between 2003 and 2005, the number of people living with HIV in East Asia rose by more than 25 percent, and the number of people living with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia rose by more than one-third. However, sub-Saharan Africa remains by far the worst-affected region. Countries such as Lesotho and Swaziland,with nearly one in three adults infected, are openly presented as possibly being the first countries to "die" of AIDS.

Why has the epidemic spread so inexorably across the globe? Why have countires failed to act -- or acted so ineffectually -- to stop the epidemic from progressing? It has been acknowledged for almost as long as HIV has been recognized that HIV/AIDS is fundamentally tied to human rights abuses. But such acknowlegement has had surprisingly little impact on the global response to the epidemic, and this failure explains, to a large extent, why we have made so little progress.

Worldwide, vulnerability to HIV/AIDS is linked to population marginalized by society because of their gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, or social or economic class. Human rights are central both to our understanidng of the dynamics of the disease and to how we must combat it.

HIV/AIDS is commonly thought to be related to "economic, social and cultural rights", (such as the right to health care), as opposed to "civil and political rights", such as freedom of expression and association and due process of law. However, many of the human rights abuses that most increase HIV risk -- violence and discrimination against women and marginalized populations as well as people living with HIV/AIDS, harassment and imprisonment without due process of outreaxch workers and at-risk populations seeking HIV/AIDS information or services, and censorship of health information -- are abuses of civil and political rights. The fact that these abuses have a concrete impact on the health of individuals underscores what has been called the "indivisibility" of human rights norms -- the notion that civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights are mutually reinforcing and derive from a single principle; the fundamental dignity of each human being.

While there is widespread, though by no means universal, recofnition that social stigma can fuel the epidemic, and that the characteristics of HIV infection donot warrant intrusive restrictions on liberty, all too often these basic understandings are not reflected in law or in concrete policy terms. Equally important, there is uneven (at best) appreciation of the broader human rights issues that contributes to the continuing spread of the disease. Most perversely, some of the critical lessons about stopping HIV/AIDS, learned painfully and acted on with positive results in the 1980s and 1990s, are now being disregarded. Even while treatment options are expanding, responses to HIV/AIDS in many places are getting further from the science based, human rights informed response that has been proven to stop the spread of the disease. Left unaddressed, human rights will undermine HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.


The response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic by governments and multilateral agencies must recognize and respect human rights. In parts fo the world today, the lack of an adequate response to the epidemic -- wherther due to denial of the exustence or extent of the epidemic, missappropriation of resources, or hostility to those individuals infected or those populations most at risk of infection -- represents a basic violation of the right to health. In other countries HIV education, prevention, and treatment programs are inaccurate or inequitable.

All individuals, including those most marginalized, must enjoy access to accurate infroamtion about HIV/AIDS and have equal access to HIV/AIDS programs. HIV testing in particular -- as the entry point for access to anti-retroviral drugs and important services -- must be accessible to all. But efforts to expand HIV testing, and to put in place "routine" testing, must not become coercive, must recognize the rights of the individuals being tested, and must provide linkages to both prevention and care.

Across the globe, people test positive for HIV have been denied employment, fired from their jobs, kicked out of hospitals, denied both HIV specific and general medical treatment, harassed and assaulted by community members who find out their status, and sometimes even killed. Because human rights abuses fuel the HIV epidemic, HIV/AIDS programs must explicitly address, and find ways to mitigate, these abuses.

Combating the rights abuses that put vulnerable population at risk of HIV is essential to turning around the AIDS crisis. Concrete policy measures are urgently needed and can have immediate and long-term impact. New laws can be put in the areas of inheritance, sexual violence, domestic violence and spousal rape, marriage, division of property upon divorce, land use and ownership, and access to housing and social services.

Programmatic reforms, designed to address human rights violations, should ensure that national HIV/AIDS programs include measure to combat discrimination and violence against people living with HIV/AIDS, with particular attention to marginalized populations.Efforts should also be made to provide himan rights training for judges, police, and other officials; improve data collection relating to polic abuse that anti-retroviral drug distribution systems recognize the challenges marginalized populations face in accessing treatment; and ensure that HIV test results and other patient information is kept confidential. Public education campaigns on the human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS in local languages and using appropriate media should be intensified.

It is sometimes suggested that paying attention tohuman rights is somehow so costly and time consuming that it should really be considered optional during a public health crisis. However, there is nor eason for public health and human rights be considered in opposition to one another. IN responding to the global HIB/AIDS epidemic, only programs that start with a basic respect for individuals, and their rights, will be successful. Those program which adopt strategies in the name of efficiency or ideology and which fail to respect human rights will ultimately fail.

(Abstracted from the book:WORLD REPORT 2006 by: Joseph Amon (directs the HIV/AIDS Program at Human Rights Watch)
posted by infraternam meam @ 12:31 AM  
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Name: infraternam meam
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About Me: I am now at the prime of my life and have been married for the past 25 years. Sickly at times, but wants to see the elixir vita, so that I will be able to see my grandchildren from my two boys.
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