Human Rights Principles Need to Guide U.S. Response to AIDS
November 30, 2007
New York, NY -- Advocates for people with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. said today that human rights violations that impede the response to the AIDS epidemic globally are also a critical problem in the United States. Catherine Hanssens, the Executive Director of the Center for HIV Law and Policy, one of the endorsers of the joint declaration, "Human Rights and HIV/AIDS: Now More Than Ever," said that "the United States' response to AIDS should be a model of commitment to both human rights and the public health. But instead, our HIV/AIDS policies are increasingly ineffective and punitive, because they are driven by ideology and bigotry, not by sound science."
The statement follows the release yesterday of an unprecedented declaration endorsed by more than 30 leading AIDS organizations around the world calling for a major shift in the global response to HIV/AIDS that highlights the need to put legal and human rights protections at the center of HIV efforts.
The declaration, "Human Rights and HIV/AIDS: Now More Than Ever," focuses on populations most vulnerable to HIV: women and girls, young people, injecting drug users, sex workers, gay and bisexual men, and incarcerated people. These groups are the most in need of comprehensive HIV prevention and treatment programs, including access to anti-retroviral drugs, yet they continue to face discrimination worldwide and often are denied access to life-saving services. As a result, HIV continues to spread unchecked in communities worldwide.
Universal access to comprehensive HIV prevention, testing and care is a core human rights principle. In the United States, as in many less developed countries, such access remains a distant goal. Ideologically based "abstinence only" prevention programs are known to be ineffective, but sound, evidence based programs are not available to many at greatest risk. HIV-AIDS treatment and services are under-funded.
U.S. prisons, jails, and detention facilities, like those in post-Soviet countries, provide virtually no comprehensive prevention education, and access to condoms and clean needles for injecting drug users is widely proscribed. Gender-based violence and the stigmatization and criminalization of sex workers render women especially vulnerable to HIV infection and are a barrier to receiving timely and appropriate care.
Currently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is calling for forceful routine HIV testing policies across the country, and a number of states have enacted legislation implementing these recommendations. Aggressive programs to find new cases are overriding the core human rights priorities of consent, counseling and confidentiality. While some HIV infections will be identified, the shortsighted new policies truncate the essential exchange of information between medical providers and patients, further stigmatize HIV/AIDS, and eliminate human rights in HIV care rather than protecting them.
Ms. Hanssens stated, "When we call upon governments around the world to put human rights at the center of their AIDS programs, we are including the government of the United States, whose policies affect not only American citizens but people around the world."
"Human Rights and HIV/AIDS: Now More Than Ever" has been endorsed by more than 30 organizations from Botswana, Canada, China, Hungary, India, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, and Zambia, as well as numerous international organizations. It has been translated into Albanian, Bulgarian, French, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Mandarin, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Thai, and a number of African languages. The declaration is being launched locally and nationally at several events planned from December 1-15, 2007. An international endorsement campaign will follow, culminating with a global march for human rights at the 2008 International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. The declaration is available on the Center for HIV Law and Policys website here.
To endorse the declaration, or to access it in French, Russian, and Spanish, go here.
This article was provided by The Center for HIV Law and Policy.