Ahead of this year’s World AIDS Day, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, the World AIDS Campaign, and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS have come together to announce the theme of “Universal Access and Human Rights.”
The theme has been chosen to address the critical need to protect human rights and attain access for all to HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support. It also acts as a call to countries to remove laws that discriminate against people living with HIV, women, and marginalized groups. Countries are also urged to realize the many commitments they made to protect human rights in the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS (2001) and the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS (2006).
Speaking ahead of the announcement at the U.N. in New York City, Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, said, "Achieving universal access to prevention, treatment, care, and support is a human rights imperative. It is essential that the global response to the AIDS epidemic is grounded in human rights and that discrimination and punitive laws against those most affected by HIV are removed.”
Many countries still have laws and policies that impede access to HIV services and criminalize those most vulnerable to HIV. These include laws that criminalize men who have sex with men, transgender people, and lesbians; laws that criminalize sex workers; and laws criminalizing people who use drugs and the harm-reduction measures and substitution therapy they need. Some 84 countries have reported that they have laws and policies that act as obstacles to effective HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support for vulnerable populations.
Speaking from Cape Town, South Africa, World AIDS Campaign executive director Marcel van Soest said, “The epidemic has not gone away, tens of millions of people are still affected, but those hit the hardest, the poor and marginalized in society, often don’t have a say when big decisions and laws are made. Their fundamental right to essential health care and life free from fear of stigma and discrimination must be strengthened. Governments continue to pass and enforce overly broad laws that criminalize the transmission of HIV which are in direct contradiction to their commitments to promote…a social and legal environment that is supportive of safe and voluntary disclosure of HIV status.”
Some 59 countries still have laws that restrict the entry, stay, and residence of people living with HIV based on their positive HIV status only, discriminating against them in their freedom of movement and right to work. At the same time, laws and regulations protecting people with HIV from discrimination and women from gender inequality and sexual violence are not fully implemented or enforced.