Lack of respect for human rights fuels the spread of HIV

Human rights are indivisibly linked with the spread and impact of HIV on individuals and communities around the world.
Lack of respect for human rights fuels the spread and intensifies the impact of the disease, while at the same time HIV undermines progress in the realisation of human rights.
Human rights are based on the principle of respect for the individual with the fundamental assumption that each person is a moral and rational being who deserves to be treated with dignity.
HIV/AIDS-related human rights issues include the right to life; the right to liberty and security of the person; the right to the highest attainable standard of mental and physical health; the right to non-discrimination, equal protection and equality before the law. They also include the right to freely receive and impart information, the right to freedom of association as well as the right to marry and found a family, are also among the HIV/AIDS-related human rights.
The protection and promotion of human rights is essential in preventing the spread of HIV and in mitigating the social and economic impact of the pandemic.
Where individuals and communities are able to realise their rights to education, free association, information and, most importantly, non-discrimination, the personal and societal impacts of HIV and AIDS are reduced.
One can also agree with me that where an open and supportive environment exists for those infected with HIV, where they are protected from discrimination, treated with dignity and have access to healthcare and support ‑ individuals are more likely to seek testing in order to know their status.
In turn, those people who are HIV positive may deal with their status more effectively, by seeking and receiving treatment and psychosocial support, and by taking measures to prevent transmission to others, thus reducing the impact of HIV on themselves and on others in society.
This link between HIV and human rights is apparent in the disproportionate incidence and spread of the disease among certain groups which, depending on the nature of the disease and the prevailing social, legal and economic conditions, include women and children, and particularly those living in poverty.
It is also apparent in the fact that the overwhelming burden of the epidemic today is borne by developing countries, where the disease threatens to reverse vital achievements in human development.
AIDS and poverty are now mutually reinforcing negative forces in many developing countries, including Namibia.
According to United Nation Human Right Council (UNHRC), the relationship between HIV/AIDS and human rights is that it increases vulnerability, stigma and discrimination as well as impedes effective response.
The human rights agency noted that certain groups are more vulnerable to contracting the HIV virus because they are unable to realise their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
For example, individuals who are denied the right to freedom of association and access to information may be excluded from discussing issues related to HIV, participating in AIDS service organisations and self-help groups, and taking other preventive measures to protect themselves from HIV infection.
Women, and particularly young women, are more vulnerable to infection if they lack access to information, education and services necessary to ensure sexual and reproductive health and prevention of infection.
The unequal status of women in the community also means that their capacity to negotiate in the context of sexual activity is severely undermined.
People living in poverty are often unable to access HIV care and treatment, including anti-retroviral and other medications for opportunistic infections.
Stigmatisation and discrimination may obstruct their access to treatment and may affect their employment, housing and other rights.
This, in turn, contributes to the vulnerability of others to infection, since HIV-related stigma and discrimination discourages individuals infected with and affected by HIV from contacting health and social services.
The result is that those needing information, education and counselling most will not benefit even where such services are available.
Apart from that, strategies to address the epidemic are hampered in an environment where human rights are not respected.
For example, discrimination against and stigmatisation of vulnerable groups such as injecting drug users, sex workers, and men who have sex with men drives these communities underground.
This inhibits the ability to reach these populations with prevention efforts, and thus increases their vulnerability to HIV.
Likewise, the failure to provide access to education and information about HIV, or treatment, and care and support services further fuels the AIDS epidemic.
These elements are essential components of an effective response to AIDS, which is hampered if these rights are not respected.
Promoting and protecting human rights, give individuals and communities greater ability to respond to the pandemic.
An effective international response to the pandemic must be grounded in respect for all civil, cultural, economic, political, economic and social rights and the right to development, in accordance with international human rights standards, norms and principles.
Governments, United Nations bodies, programmes and specialised agencies and international and NGOs should take a step to promote and implement, where applicable, programmes to address the urgent HIV-related human rights of women, children and vulnerable groups in the context of prevention, care and access to treatment.
Until then…
 

May 2013
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