[Ip-health] Time to Change Our Response to HIV -Navi Pillay

Riaz K Tayob riaz.tayob at gmail.com
Thu Jul 19 13:14:16 PDT 2012

[Is Geneva UN-socialisation too much for Navi? I mean the HR argument is 
nice and all, but nary a word on rich countries undermining poor 
countries legal rights to compulsory licenses... And to be precise it is 
"authors rights" that are privileged over other more meaningful rights 
(i.e. meaningful to the treatment access movement) ... I guess these 
kinds of pushes for human rights are necessary now that rich countries 
are cutting prices paid to big pharma and we can all expect the loss of 
profits there to be made up in less well regulated markets that lack 
productive capacity to fight back... is it just me or is it this 
obsession with suffering of the worst off that displaces more systemic 
options... symptomatic approaches have their limits as the cuts in HIV 
funding attest... would have expected more from Navi...  ]

Navi Pillay

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Time to Change Our Response to HIV
Posted: 07/19/2012 12:10 pm
The world's collective response to HIV three decades ago can be summed 
up in one word: shameful. At worst, people living with HIV were, 
inexplicably, chained to their beds, detained, turned away from medical 
facilities, criminalised and deported. At best, they lost their jobs, 
were kicked out of schools and denied access to basic services. We 
responded to a virus by humiliating, stigmatizing and punishing those 
infected. Our response to the virus was as painful, and sometimes as 
deadly as the virus itself.

Fortunately, impressive strides have since been made in the fight 
against HIV. In the last few years, major scientific advances have 
occurred and the number of new HIV infections, particularly among 
children, has been slowly declining, fewer people are dying from 
AIDS-related causes, nearly half of those people eligible for 
antiretroviral treatment, including in low- and middle-income countries, 
are now receiving it, and treatment has become the new engine for 
prevention. HIV is no longer the certain death sentence it once was.

And yet, the stigma and discrimination faced by HIV-positive people 
remains high, in every region of the world. Even today, we continue to 
focus on punitive approaches to HIV such as the criminalization of HIV 
transmission, non-disclosure and exposure. Entry restrictions against 
and deportation of HIV-positive non-nationals at borders are still far 
too common, particularly in the more affluent countries. The most 
vulnerable communities, the ones that least enjoy their fundamental 
human rights, also remain disproportionately more vulnerable to HIV 
infection -- and this is no coincidence.

The face of HIV has always been the face of our failure to protect human 
rights. One of the key drivers of AIDS has always been, and remains, 
this failure to ensure human rights protection for marginalised 
communities, including prisoners, sex workers, drug users, people with 
disabilities and migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Homophobia, 
gender discrimination, racial profiling and violence against women have 
further impeded efforts to effectively manage and contain the spread of HIV.

The theme of this year's International AIDS Conference, which is being 
held in Washington D.C. later this month (July) is Turning the Tide 
Together. It is indeed now time to turn the tide. The human rights 
violations that have characterised the spread of HIV -- and in many 
cases also the fight against HIV -- must be curbed.

It is time to build on the gains of the past few years to create a 
sustainable global response to an epidemic that still challenges us. 
Taking a human rights perspective on the issue is essential.

The starting point is the recognition of all people as equal in the 
enjoyment of their human rights. Vulnerable populations that are most at 
risk must not only be included in national responses to HIV, they must 
also be given the opportunity to participate in making the policies that 
will affect them.

Human rights norms must accompany public health considerations to ensure 
that our laws, policies and programmes do not increase vulnerability to 
HIV or result in further human rights violations. Broad laws and 
policies in many countries that criminalize non-intentional HIV 
transmission, exposure and non-disclosure, target specific groups for 
mandatory HIV testing, and restrict travel of individuals based on HIV 
status alone are examples of such alarmist and misguided policies.

Advances in the right direction have been made, one of which -- the 
lifting of travel restrictions -- has enabled the United States to host 
this important AIDS conference this year, after 22 years. But much 
remains to be done. Even in States where laws are on the books to 
protect and promote the human rights of HIV-positive people, the extent 
to which they are respected and enforced is not clear.

More resources certainly need to be channelled into ensuring access to 
good quality lifesaving antiretroviral treatment, but also to human 
rights programmes, including awareness raising, training of healthcare 
providers and law enforcement officials, access to justice for 
HIV-positive individuals, fighting stigma and educating young people 
about safe sex.

Funding the fight against AIDS in this holistic fashion is not only 
necessary; it is also a human rights legal obligation. The current 
economic crisis cannot be an excuse for diminishing our investment in 
the response to AIDS. This would result in a reversal in the gains made 
so far.

This is not a time for complacency. UNAIDS has as its goal: zero new 
infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero discrimination. At this 
AIDS conference, a gathering of high-level government officials, civil 
society, the international community and, importantly, people living 
with HIV, it is essential to drive home the point that in order to 
succeed, human rights must inform and motivate our response.


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