Contributing to the promise of Vision 2030
THE UNAIDS Gap report (2014) launched in Geneva, ahead of the 20th International AIDS Conference held in Melbourne, Australia, from 20-25 July 2014 highlights that a lack of data about people most affected by HIV, coupled with widespread stigma and discrimination, punitive legal environments, barriers to civil society engagement and lack of investment in tailored programmes are affecting efforts to halt the spread of HIV.
The Gap report confirms that countries that ignore discrimination and condone inequalities will not reach their full development potential, and face serious public health and financial consequences of inaction. It emphasises the need for
equal access to quality HIV prevention
and treatment services as both a human rights and public health imperative.
The report also reinforces that, as people find out their HIV-positive status, they will seek life-saving treatment. As fittingly expressed by Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS: "Whether you live or die should not depend on access to an HIV test."
Sidibé has further called for strategic interventions to reduce inequalities. "Smarter scale-up is needed to close the gap between people who know their HIV status and people who don't, people who can get services and people who can't, and people who are protected and people who are punished."
Where does the Caribbean region — which has the second-highest prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS after sub-Saharan Africa — stand in terms of ensuring that anyone can seek and receive treatment without fear of discrimination? The heads of the government of the Caribbean Community at their recent meeting (1-4 July 2014) in Antigua and Barbuda reaffirmed their support for efforts to eliminate stigma and discrimination, an action that has been identified as necessary to effectively combat the spread of HIV.
It is clear that there will be no ending AIDS without a people-centred approach — one that seeks to ensure that people living with and affected by the epidemic are part of a new movement for change. It is equally important to forge partnerships between communities — including faith-based institutions, civil society organisations, and the private sector — and government, to enhance equality and counter discrimination, widen the democratic space for dialogue and participation and strengthen accountability and the rule of law.
The Jamaican Government's emphasis on creating equal opportunities for all is reflected in the goal of the Vision 2030 National Development Plan to make "Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business".
In calling for an end to AIDS by 2030 during his opening address at the Melbourne AIDS conference, Sidibé urged world leaders to end the "hypocrisy on sex" and make treatment
and reproductive health education and rights universally available, while underscoring the importance of equal access to health and HIV/AIDS treatment for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.
In his address to
the conference, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasised that tackling AIDS will help end extreme poverty, guide underlying issues and advance universal health care.
This appeal is timely, as nations around the world continue to push towards accelerated progress on the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and lay the foundation for a human rights-based sustainable development agenda that will begin after the 2015 deadline for the MDGs.
It is encouraging that a dialogue around these issues has started in Jamaica. As it progresses, the discussion should include a wider range of stakeholders and embrace the voices of the voiceless in an inclusive space that is shaped by respect and upholds dignity and human rights for all. The discourse would benefit from an evidence-based approach that provides proven information to better understand the facts and is founded on good listening skills and mutual tolerance. This kind of healthy discussion would strengthen forbearance among the citizens and catalyse harmonious living that promotes social progress.
Such an approach promotes "true respect for all". It is deeply embedded in the United Nations human rights-based approach that pursues greater capacity of both duty-bearers and rights-holders to implement their vision of development. This requires widespread and open participation by all citizens without prejudice and with an ability to ensure respect for their rights that is duly enforced by the society and the government.
The UN's mission emphasises empowerment of people and provides options to improve their quality of life by devoting equal attention to the realisation of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, including the right to development. In the words of Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon: "Our mission is to build a better world. To leave no one behind. To stand for the poorest and the most vulnerable in the name of global peace and social justice."
The UN in Jamaica will continue to spare no efforts in translating this message into on-the-ground reality and contribute to the promise of Vision 2030 Jamaica National Development Plan in close collaboration with the Government and the Jamaicans.
We can, and we must do better.
Dr Arun Kashyap is the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Jamaica, The Bahamas, Turks & Caicos Islands, and the Cayman Islands.