AIDS: A Plague of Prejudice

Introduction

“The demand for equal rights in every vocation of life is just and fair; but, after all, the most vital right is the right to love and be loved.”

-Emma Goldman

Human rights are fundamental to any response to HIV/AIDS. This has been recognized since the first global AIDS strategy was developed in 1987[1]. The strong focus in the 1980s on the human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS also helped lead to increased understanding in the 1990s of the importance of human rights as a factor in determining people’s vulnerability to HIV infection and their consequent risk of acquiring HIV infection as well the probability of their accessing appropriate care and support. The interaction between HIV/AIDS and human rights is most often illustrated through the impact on the lives of individuals of neglect, denial, and violation of their rights in the context of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

As per Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.[2]  The right to the highest attainable standard of health, the prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases “requires the establishment of prevention and education programmes for behavior-related health concerns such as sexually transmitted diseases, in HIV/AIDS, and those adversely affecting sexual and reproductive health, and the promotion of social determinants of good health, such as environmental safety, education, economic development and gender equity.  The right to health includes four interrelated elements such as availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality and the HIV positive people are denied of all these four elements. There is no availability of Health care; they cannot access the hospital facilities. They are not even acceptable by the society.

Human Rights approach towards HIV

Where individuals and communities are able to realize their rights – to education, free association, information and, most importantly, non-discrimination – the personal and societal impacts of HIV and AIDS are still the same. It is said that “Societies need to have one illness which becomes identified with evil, attaches blame to its ‘victims[3].” Therefore, it becomes very essential to protect and promote the human rights of those persons suffering from HIV and to mitigate the social and economic impact of the pandemic[4].

The National Human Rights Commission of India

The National Human Rights Commission of India has recommended intensifying public health action to address mother-to-child transmission of HIV at the central and State level; legislation to prevent discrimination against children living with HIV; addressing school fees and related costs that keep children, especially girls, from going to school; providing all children both in and out of school with comprehensive, accurate and age-appropriate information about HIV and AIDS; providing care and protection to children whose parents are unable to care for them owing to HIV-related illness; establishing institutional arrangements for extending medical aid to children with HIV; realizing the right of people living with HIV to receive adequate treatment and ensuring health professionals are aware of their duty to provide these services. Workshops and seminars have been held to raise awareness among stakeholders in various regions. In spite of so many efforts, still 80% of the people suffer denial of health care from hospital authorities and face discrimination.

Status of HIV Patients in Society

The rights of people living with HIV/AIDS often are violated because of their presumed or known HIV status, causing them to suffer both the burden of the disease and the consequential loss of other rights. Stigmatization and discrimination may obstruct their access to treatment and may affect their employment, housing and other rights. HIV continues to spread throughout the world, shadowed by increasing challenges to human rights, at both national and global levels. As the number of people living with HIV and with AIDS continues to grow in nations with different economies, social structures, and legal systems, HIV/AIDS-related human rights issues are not only becoming more apparent, but also becoming increasingly diverse. Where the human rights of HIV-positive people are not protected, they suffer stigma and discrimination, become ill, become unable to support themselves and their families, and if not provided treatment, they die. Stigma and discrimination have been identified as the main obstacles to effective responses to HIV. They not only violate the human rights of those that suffer them, but also obstruct public health efforts to prevent new HIV infections and reduce the impact of the epidemic on individuals, families, communities and countries. Stigma and discrimination can be experienced as both a cause and a consequence of HIV infection.

Many HIV+ people encounter legal problems associated with their health status. Recently, In U.S., a case was filed by a Ms. Rose suffering from HIV positive. She was denied for the gallbladder surgery by the hospital authorities because of the fear of transmission of HIV virus. The District Court held on such discrimination that “the doctors don’t get a free pass to discriminate based on unfounded fears regarding the transmission of HIV. Health care professionals must rely on sound medical science rather than personal misconceptions and bias, Doctors should be our first line of defense in the fight against the misinformation and fear that fuels such stigma and discrimination.[5]

The Delhi high court has also asked a non-government organisation (NGO), Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+), to provide details about the alleged shoddy treatment being offered to HIV positive patients in the hospitals. Chief Justice B C Patel and Justice A K Sikri asked the NGO to provide specific information on hospitals who are allegedly denying treatment to HIV/AIDS affected patients. The NGO said that these patients deserved the treatment under Article 21 in terms of the right to life and the right to health.[6]” The doctors need to be the life savers not the life takers. The medical authorities have no right to infringe the human right of those persons affected from HIV positive.

Conclusion

It is becoming a challenge for the HIV positive people to survive in the society. The HIV positive people are murdered, they do not die; they are murdered by the society. Society throws such people on their orthodox belief. They are being thrown from the employment, hospitals and every social place. All the Human rights of HIV positive person infringes each and every moment. But none is there to change this orthodox behavior.

In spite of giving so much awareness in the society through advertisements, camps and NACO’[7]s efforts, this orthodox behavior is not changing. Even the doctors who are considered to be the life savers they too reject those persons on the fear of transmission of virus through them. In order to regulate this orthodox thinking, the government needs to formulate stricter legislation so as to protect the human rights of HIV positive people. The obligations of the State include the provision of appropriate HIV-related information, education and support, access to the means of prevention (such as condoms and clean injection equipment), to voluntary counseling and testing, as well as access to safe blood supplies, to adequate treatment and to medication. States may have to take special measures to ensure that all groups in society, particularly members of marginalized populations, have equal access to HIV-related prevention, treatment, care and support.

 In the end I just would like to quote a saying of ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Be as beneficent as the sun or the sea, but if your rights as a rational being are trenched on, die on the first inch of your territory.”

 


[1]  A publiscation of Program on International Health and Human Rights, François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human    Rights,Harvard School of Public Health and the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO)

[2] Handbook onHIV and Human Rights for National Human Rights Institutions UNAIDS

[3] Quote by Susan Sontag

[4] http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/hiv/introhiv.htm; Introduction to HIV/AIDS and Human Rights dated November 19, 2011

[5] Rose v. Cahee

[6] Times of India, Delhi; May 26, 2003

[7] National Aids Control Organisation

Picture Courtesy: p-a-t-c-h.blogspot.com

By Bhumika Indolia on December 9, 2011 · Posted in Human Rights

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