The right approach to tackling the HIV epidemic

Monday, December 02, 2019

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Sunday , December 1, 2019, was commemorated as World AIDS Day under the theme 'Ending the HIV epidemic: Community by community'. This theme has set the world on a mission that many believe is more aspirational than realistic because of our collective failure to treat the topic of HIV/AIDS as a human rights issue, even as AIDS continues to be a major public health concern in Jamaica and one of the leading causes of death worldwide.

With regard to Jamaica, it was recently reported by UNAIDS Jamaica that in 2018 about 40,000 people were presently living with HIV, and of that number the percentage of people living with HIV among adults (15–49 years) was 1.9 per cent.

What is even more alarming is that 2,400 people were newly infected with HIV and 1,500 people had died from an AIDS-related illness. These numbers speak to the fact that, as a nation, we are not responsive enough to the silent cries of the 40,000 persons who are living with this virus. Adopting a human rights approach to combating the epidemic would therefore be transformative because of its potential to cultivate an environment where people living with HIV are treated as dignified beings. It just might be the “cure” that we are looking for especially, given the myriad human rights challenges currently faced by persons living with HIV (PLHIV). These challenges, which are by no means new, include, but are not limited to, pervasive stigma and discrimination in a range of spheres, systemic inequality, and a denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Jamaica Aids Support for Life (JASL) in partnership with UNAIDS Jamaica has made concerted efforts to ensure that global human rights standards and commitments are translated into action and that legislative, policy and programmatic mechanisms are created to respond effectively to the human rights challenges of PLHIV. Unfortunately, however, their efforts have been stymied by the failure of our society to actively promote a culture of respect when treating with people living with HIV.

By way of example, it was only recently an actress in a local HIV education commercial experienced harsh treatment from members of the public who believed she was actually carrying the virus. Her case demonstrates that our society is ignorant to the plight of PLHIV and is not enlightened enough on how to treat persons who are different. However, no one should have his or her dignity trampled upon or human rights denied, merely on account of differences.

Generally speaking, while some progress has been made towards tackling this global epidemic, there remains much work to be done before the stigma around HIV is eradicated and the dignity of PLHIV is respected and affirmed. The 90-90-90 goal, which has been described as “an ambitious treatment target to help end the aids epidemic”, envisions that by 2020 90 per cent of people living with HIV will know their status, 90 per cent of people who know their HIV-positive status will be accessing treatment, and 90 per cent of people on treatment will have suppressed viral loads. Achieving this goal is not impossible, but it will ultimately require that we take the time to properly educate ourselves and others about HIV, work towards eradicating stigma and discrimination against PLHIV, and make a firm commitment to doing our small part to end the HIV epidemic community by community.

The above piece is written by Nassalie Brown, representing the Norman Manley Law School Human Rights Committee. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or nmlshumanrightscommittee@yahoo.com.


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