People living with HIV have human rights


In order to ensure an effective response to HIV and AIDS, all people living with, affected by, and vulnerable to HIV and AIDS must have a full range of internationally recognised human rights respected, protected and fulfilled.

The world commemorated International Human Rights Day this past week; and it has become imperative that people consider HIV as a human rights issue and not just as a killer disease.

The UN General Assembly proclaimed December 10, as Human Rights Day in 1950, to bring to the attention “of the peoples of the world” the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.

Events focussed on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been held worldwide on and around December 10 annually since then.

Most events aim to educate people, especially children and teenagers, on their human rights and the importance of upholding these in their own communities and further afield.

The day is also used to alert people of circumstances in parts of the world where human rights are not recognised or respected, or where these rights are not considered important.

Evidence has shown that HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed more than 36 million lives so far. There were approximately 35.3 million people living with HIV in 2012.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the most affected region, with nearly one in every 20 adults living with the virus. Sixty-nine percent of all people living with HIV are living in this region.

You might wonder how human rights have to do with HIV and AIDS. Human rights are inextricably linked with the spread and impact of HIV on individuals and communities around the world.

A lack of respect for human rights fuels the spread and exacerbates the impact of the disease, while at the same time HIV undermines progress in the realisation of human rights.

This link is apparent in the disproportionate incidence and spread of the disease among certain groups, which, depending on the nature of the pandemic and the prevailing social, legal and economic conditions, include women and children, and particularly those living in poverty.

It is a fact that when human rights inform the content of national responses to HIV, vulnerability to HIV infection is reduced and people living with HIV can live with dignity.

When human rights principles guide the process by which local and national responses are implemented, the results are responses tailored to the needs and realities of those affected. Such principles include non-discrimination, participation, inclusion, transparency and accountability.

You will agree with me that where states are providing comprehensive HIV prevention, care and impact mitigation programmes to all those in need, supporting vulnerable people to be able to act on the information and services they receive, and allowing the full participation of all those affected in the design and implementation of HIV programmes, they are fulfilling their HIV-related human rights obligations and mounting an effective response to HIV.

In contrast, where human rights are not respected, protected, and promoted, the risk of HIV infection increases, people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS suffer from discrimination, and an effective response to the epidemic is often impeded.

So my message for this week is that we, as shareholders in this battle, need to create an conducive environment within our countries and regions, where individuals and communities are able to realise their rights to education, free association, information and, most importantly, non-discrimination. Because where an open and supportive environment exists for those infected with HIV; where they are protected from discrimination; treated with dignity, provided with access to treatment, care and support and where AIDS is de-stigmatised, 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.

The protection and promotion of human rights are, therefore, essential in preventing the spread of HIV and to mitigating the social and economic impact of the pandemic.

The reasons for this are threefold. Firstly, the promotion and protection of human rights reduces vulnerability to HIV infection by addressing its root causes.

Secondly, the adverse impact on those infected and affected by HIV lessens and thirdly, individuals and communities have greater ability to respond to the pandemic.

An effective international response to the pandemic, therefore, 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.

So let us be guided by the words of our late Nelson Mandela when he said, “AIDS is no longer just a disease, it is a human rights issue”, in our efforts to make Africa a continent free from HIV and AIDS.

The world has indeed lost a powerful voice in a battle against HIV and AIDS. May your soul rest in peace Tatekulu Madiba!

December 2013
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