Well it’s been a while since I last blogged, but this time around I really need your help. Since I will be attending the International AIDS Conference, I am starting to prepare for what I can bring to the table. Please read this article and post a comment about your thoughts. The more people that think about the HIV/AIDS issue, the more solutions that we can come up with!
TORONTO (CP) – A Mexican AIDS activist is stabbed to death in his condom shop. In China, 23 people infected with the AIDS virus are put under house arrest. A Ugandan woman is murdered by her lover after she tells him she has the disease. An HIV-positive 15-year-old Kenyan boy is killed by a pitchfork wielded by his uncle as villagers, fearing infection, stand idly by.
These are just a few of the “outrageous abuses” suffered by people with HIV/AIDS in the last year – and such acts of violence and government repression are undermining efforts to fight the global epidemic, Human Rights Watch told a Toronto news conference Monday.”Twenty-five years into the epidemic, people living with HIV or AIDS are still feared and stigmatized,” said Joe Amon, the New York-based organization’s director of HIV/AIDS. “We can’t defeat AIDS unless we end outrageous abuses against activists, outreach workers, people living with AIDS and those most vulnerable to infection.”
It is a message that Human Rights Watch will speak about loudly and often at the International AIDS Conference, to be held next month in Toronto.
While human rights issues have been widely discussed at previous meetings of the biennial conference, “little concrete actions are put behind the words,” said Amon.
“We know everything that we need right now to fight the epidemic,” he said. “We need resources. We need governments to have a political commitment, to show a will and to protect those who are vulnerable.
“Governments are specifically failing to apply the lessons that have been learned from the epidemic over the last 25 years.”
For example, countries like Ukraine that prohibit and crack down on needle-exchange and methadone programs in a bid to reduce intravenous drug abuse are only fuelling the HIV/AIDS epidemic, said Amon.
“If you take a hardline, police approach, what you do is drive users underground, further away from services that protect them from HIV, and you’ll spread the disease further.”
Other countries whose AIDS-prevention policies were paying off in lower rates of new cases have begun to lose ground with a shift in political and social attitudes. Uganda, for instance, had a sharp decrease in HIV prevalence rates, which levelled off at about six per cent of the adult population in 2002. But recently, the infection rate has started to climb, Amon said.
The Ugandan government, backed by evangelical groups, has switched its policy of providing comprehensive education on AIDS prevention to its populace and – following the U.S. lead – is now emphasizing sexual abstinence until marriage and abandoning the promotion of condoms, he said.
In many African countries with high HIV rates, women have infection rates up to 10 times higher than men, Amon said. But gender inequalities can make them more vulnerable to the disease: their homes and other property may be seized upon divorce or death of their husband, leaving them homeless and impoverished. Many women, especially in rural areas, have no access to health care, including anti-AIDS drugs.
In most African countries overall, only about 10 per cent of men, women and children who need anti-AIDS drugs are receiving them, said Amon. “Without them, they die within about two years.”
Georgette Gagnon, the organization’s deputy director for Africa, said government policies in Zimbabwe are also starting to erode the progress that country has made against HIV/AIDS.
In an action last year dubbed Operation Cleanse the Filth, thousands of people were evicted from their homes in low-income neighbourhoods of many Zimbabwean cities. An estimated one-fifth had HIV and were no longer able to access treatment, said Gagnon.
“These people are still destitute and homeless,” she said. “Many have been forced to move to rural areas where they have no access to food or medical treatment.
“So this is a very clear example of where very outrageous human rights violations have exacerbated the epidemic . . . More people became vulnerable to getting the infection because of the lack of services.”
Human Rights Watch is calling on delegates to the Toronto conference – in particular representatives from governments, the United Nations and the World Health Organization – to work together to stop abuses against people with HIV/AIDS and to set reasonably attainable targets for battling the epidemic.
“At these conferences we get general commitments,” Amon said. “But we need to do more than general commitments. We need to have a specific target. And specific countries need to come forward and the World Health Organization needs to come forward with a global goal – a global goal toward prevention and a global goal towards treatment.”