MEXICO CITY, Jul 9 (IPS World Desk) - AIDS activists get
another opportunity to champion the cause of human rights for
those living with the killer disease at this week's 13th
International AIDS Conference, in Durban, South Africa. Of
particular importance to these advocates is the need to secure
greater community support from all countries for the rights of
adults and children afflicted with the killer disease.
And to achieve such guarantees, the conference organisers have
schedu led a special session on the subject, one in a series of
"community program mes" that will run concurrent with the
scientific sessions at the international gathering, which is
expected to draw close to 12,000 people from across the world.
According to Peter Busse, the Community Programme
co-chairperson, the community programmes will seek to
"integrate and involve the infected and affected community
perspectives and voices into all aspects of the conference
The special community programme on human rights for HIV/AIDS
patients , in fact, has already identified five Latin American
countries, including Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela, to
showcase their achievements - studies done locally to identify
human rights issues that matter to patients with HIV/AIDS (h
uman immunodeficiency virus/ acquired immune deficiency
Such studies are a "qualified success," say the organisers of
the AIDS conference, since they offer ample information to
those who are not familiar with a particular country's
situation, and they identify human rights issues related to
HIV/AIDS that need to be addressed.
Some legal experts and AIDS activists, however, opted for other
avenu es to achieve their objective. Two days before the
conference began on Sunday, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal
Network and the South African AIDS Law Projec t teemed up with
the United Nations department for AIDS (UNAIDS) to launch a
pre-conference meeting in Durban on the legal, ethical and
human rights aspects of the pandemic.
"In the area of HIV/AIDS, there are several areas of rights
that coul d potentially be used to mobilise people, groups and
communities," observed Cathi Albertyn, in a discussion paper
written for this pre-conference event , "Putting Third First -
Critical Legal Issues and HIV/AIDS."
In her view, a rights campaign requires one to frame the issues
carefully, drawing on broad-based support, arange of legal
and non-legal strate gies and sufficient resources.
And that calls for using rights that are already entrenched in
the law. "Where rights are entrenched in national laws, they
can serve both as cataly st for change and a defensive strategy
against constraints that states or it s citizens seek to impose
on persons or groups," added Albertyn, of the Centre for
Applied Legal Studies at the Univervsity of Witwatersrand,
Johannesburg, Sout h Africa. Furthermore, she referred to the
range of "first generation rights" - like equality, dignity,
privacy and security of the person - that could be drawn upon
to secure the rights of HIV/AIDS patients.
According to the Canadian legal body, people afflicted with
HIV/AIDS have become victims of two epidemics - the disease and
the "one of stigma and discrimination." As a result, such
discrimination affects the lives of both the victims of the
disease and their lovers, families and caregivers.
This epidemic of stigma has consequences, it pointed out, since
infected people have been prevented from seeking or obtaining
the health care and social support they require, adults with
the disease have lost their jobs or have been denied
employment, and afflicted children have been denied care. In
Canada, for instance, "cases of discrimination have been
documented in many areas, including housing, employment,
prisons, access to health care and access to public services,"
The need to stem such pervasive discrimination has become more
urgent in light of the bleak picture painted by UNAIDS in its
"Report on the Global H IV/AIDS Epidemic," which was released
in late June.
"The probability of dying of AIDS is systematically higher than
the p revalence rates indicate," the report declared of the
disease that has, to date, been responsible for 18.8 million
deaths, 3.8 million of them children.
In sub-Saharan Africa, where the most severe epidemic is to be
found, close to 24.5 million adults and children are now living
with HIV, and the proportion of 15- to 49-year-olds infected
with the virus is still increasing, the report added.
What is more, it noted, in countries such as Cameroon, Ghana
and South Africa - which now has 4.2 million people living
with HIV/AIDS, "the highest number in the world" - the adult
prevalence rate "has shot up by more than half in the past two
Regards the impact of the disease among African women, it said
this: "HIV prevalence rates in young women aged 15-24 are
higher - typically two or three times higher - than those of
young men the same age."
Speaking soon after this report's release, Peter Piot, the
executive director of UNAIDS, expressed his disappointment at
the global response to suc h a dismal reality, describing it as
"just a fraction of what it could be."
"We need to respond to this crisis on a massively different
scale from what has been done so far," he said.
Securing the rights of HIV/AIDS patients, in fact, is one area
that UNAIDS still deems wanting, despite the "International
Guidelines on HIV/AID S and Human Rights" it has published in
tandem with the UN High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR).
This publication, which focuses on 12 aspects of HIV/AIDS and
human rights, specifically calls on governments and
communities to "confront the is sues with a sense of urgency."
It emphasises, furthermore, that the fulfilment of a state's
obligation to non-discrimination, health, information,
education, social welfare and public participation is "crucial
not only to ensure human care and support for those infected
and affected by HIV/AIDS, (but) it is also vital in the fight
to reduce people's vulnerability to infection".
According to UNAIDS, the need to push through this message -
that hum an rights and public health are inextricably linked -
will be on the agenda of its team of top officials during the
Durban gathering. (END/IPS/HE/mmm/da/00).