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HIVers worldwide
face violence and repression

HIVers worldwide
face violence and repression

A Mexican AIDS activist is stabbed to death in his condom shop. In China, 23 people infected with HIV are put under house arrest. A Kenyan man kills his HIV-positive 15-year-old nephew with a pitchfork as villagers, fearing infection, stand idly by.

These are just a few of the ''outrageous abuses'' suffered by HIV-positive people 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 this week.

''Twenty-five years into the epidemic, people living with HIV or AIDS are still feared and stigmatized,'' said Joe Amon, the New York City-based organization's director of HIV/AIDS programs. ''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 Human Rights Watch will speak loudly and often at the International AIDS Conference, to be held next month in Toronto.

''Governments are specifically failing to apply the lessons that have been learned from the epidemic over the last 25 years,'' he said.

Some countries whose HIV 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 leveled off at about 6% 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 changed its policy of providing comprehensive education on AIDS prevention and--following the U.S. lead--is now emphasizing sexual abstinence until marriage and abandoning the promotion of condoms, he said.

In most African countries overall, only about 10% of the men, women, and children who need anti-HIV drugs are receiving them, said Amon. ''Without them, they die within about two years.''

Georgette Gagnon, deputy director for Africa for Human Rights Watch, said government policies in Zimbabwe were also starting to erode the progress that country has made against HIV.

In an action last year dubbed ''Operation Cleanse the Filth,'' hundreds of thousands of people were evicted from their homes in low-income neighborhoods of many Zimbabwean cities. An estimated one fifth were HIV-positive 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."

Gagnon continued, ''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 HIV-positive people and to set reasonably attainable targets for battling the epidemic. (AP)

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