This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Youth Ki Awaaz. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

AIDS and Human Rights: The Challenges Ahead

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

Kush Kalra:

“AIDS is a death sentence that is to be implemented on an unknown date”

INTRODUCTION

The worldwide epidemic of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection and Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is perhaps the first pandemic to occur in the modern era of human rights. In contrast to many other health issues of the past, HIV/AIDS prevention and care have raised many human rights concerns and have posed numerous challenges before the contemporary society. As a matter of fact, interaction between AIDS and human rights can be considered in three ways: First, HIV/AIDS policies, programmes and practices can violate or interfere with human rights, Second, threats to human rights reduce the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS prevention and care programmes. Third, promoting human rights reduces vulnerability to HIV infection. Thus, health and human rights perspectives and actions not only complement but mutually reinforce each other in the context of HIV/AIDS.

Marginalized groups in our society have little or no access to basic human rights such as food, medical services and information. Many of these groups are ostracized by society at large, and their lifestyles criminalized, making it practically impossible for them to participate in mainstream processes whereby they could demand their rights. Coupled with this dismal situation, there is minimal awareness about HIV and there are no real options for safer lifestyles. The stark reality of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is thus that people are becoming HIV positive because they have no access to basic fundamental human rights. For the same reasons, the impact of infection is a lot graver for those with no access to rights. That is why there is grave and urgent need to recognize this link between marginalization, human rights and vulnerability. It is also a time to recognize that the HIV/AIDS epidemic itself has given rise to a range of human rights violations. The refusal of treatment, denial of access to essential drugs including antiretroviral therapy, discrimination in the health care and employment sectors, women being deprived of their rights and thrown out of their homes etc. etc. are just some of the examples of these violations. Apart form having a serious impact on the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS, these violations are pushing the epidemic underground. Therefore, unless these human rights violations are properly addressed, there cannot be the creation of an enabling environment, where people come forward to access health and other services, or even get tested for HIV/AIDS.2

There is, therefore, a need for people and organizations involved with public wealth and with human rights to work in conjunction with each other. Both fields have independent yet inter-dependent objectives. Their respective work can contribute to a more effective effort to prevent HIV spread and improve care of HIV-infected and people with AIDS. They can increase respect for human rights and dignity and stop abuses committed under the pretext of controlling HIV/AIDS.3 There is, thus, a need to foster a spirit of understanding and compassion for HIV/AIDS infected people though information, education and social support programmes.4

MAJOR ISSUES RELATING TO HIV/AIDS

This is now a universally acknowledged fact that AIDS is a global challenge of unprecedented scope. In the filed of human rights, it has threatened to undermine universal respect of human rights. This was perhaps the reason that the Secretary General of the United Nations, in his speech at the General Assembly was back on 20, October, 1987 had said that our fight against AIDS “is also a fight against fear, against prejudice and against irrational action born of ignorance. For these are the causes of some of the most critical violations of human rights.”5

The HIV/AIDS pandemic is also a major challenge to the public health of communities and nations around the world. The goals of public health are to prevent HIV infection (primary invention) and to reduce the personal and societal impact of HIV infection and AIDS (secondary and tertiary prevention). It may be appropriate to mention here that the World Health Organisation has taken a series of strong and proactive stands to help protect the rights of, and prevent discrimination against, persons affected with HIV. This position was reinforced by the 41st World Health Assembly, which adopted a resolution on 13 May 1988 entitled: “AIDS: Avoidance of Discrimination in Relation to HIV-infected People and People with AIDS”. The aforesaid resolution urged the Nation Member States “to protect the human rights and dignity of HIV-infected people and people with discriminatory action against and stigmatization of them in the provision of services, employment and travel.”6 In addition, the Member States were urged “to ensure the confidentiality of HIV testing and to promote the availability of confidential counselling and other support services to HIV-infected people and people with AIDS.”7

In the following paragraphs, I have attempted to highlight and discuss some of the prominent issues that HIV/AIDS pandemic has brought to the forefront. An insight into these issues enable us to understand the ambit, amplitude ramifications of the pandemic that is confronting us for the last two decades or so. These issues are:

Consent and Testing

Any discussion in support of human rights is based on the fundamental notion that every individual has certain inalienable rights, which, if protected, permit that individual and society at large to flourish. One such right is that of self-autonomy where every adult of sound mind has right to determine what can be done to his/her body. This deals with the very essence of having the right to lead a life and take decisions for oneself in one’s best interests without any coercion or force. In the context of HIV/AIDS, this issue manifests itself in the form of an informed consent, in two critical scenarios: First is a situation where a person is tested for his/her positive status. It is a widely held belief that before a health care worker/testing facility tests a person for HIV, the person must be fully informed of various issues related to the test and result prior to taking his/her consent for testing.

The issue of consent arises in the HIV/AIDS scenario is for purposes of research. There are mainly two types of research- biomedical and behavioral. In both, consent plays a vital role. For a researcher to seek a person’s participation in research, it is important that the prospective participant be fully informed of various factors such as the risks and benefits that the researcher may expose the participant to, the absence of any monetary or material inducement, the purposes of the research, the organizations funding and conducting the research, the duties and responsibilities of the researcher, the manner of keeping records and the guarantee of confidentiality.

Confidentiality

The concept of confidentiality is rooted in the fundamental human right of privacy- every person has the right to a sphere of activity and personal information that is exclusive to him/herself and that he/she has the right to disclose as he/she pleases. This is the right that has been guaranteed by both international human rights documents and under the Indian Constitution. Confidentiality is an extension of the right of privacy and plays an important role in the HIV/AIDS scenario where stigma and discrimination are rampant.

Discrimination in Health Care

Discrimination lies at the root of all legal and human rights issues in the HIV/AIDS context. It is because of the fear, ignorance and stigma associated with HIV/AIDS that PLWHA are treated prejudicially and unequally. The reality is, however, quite different and discrimination is rampant vis-à-vis PLWHA in the healthcare setting. This is further accentuated fro certain marginalized populations. For instance, women, commercial sex workers, drug users and prisoners find themselves discriminated in health care irrespective of their HIV status. Their positive status, however, further marginalizes them and decreases access to health servies even more. Those who do not fall within these populations but are HIV positive also suffer immense discrimination in healthcare. Not only would increased access to healthcare benefit PLWHA, it would have a positive public health impact on society at large in preventing the spread of the pandemic.8

CONCLUSION AND SUGGESTIONS

By the end of this decade, the number of people infected with HIV will increase dramatically, along with an even more rapid rise in the number of people with AIDS. The expanding HIV/AIDS epidemic is certainly going to be accompanied by intense social, economic and political distress. Threats to and interference with human rights and dignity of HIV/AIDS infected and affected people, as well as already marginalized groups, are expected to increase substantially. A united public health and human rights effort is, therefore, urgently needed to meet these threats- both to health and human rights all over the world.9

Back home, India does not yet have a complete picture as to the magnitude of the HIV/AIDS pandemic especially considering the lack of surveillance data in vast regions of the country. However, in areas where surveillance has taken place, it is seen that the pandemic follows its unbridled path and is beginning to surface in all spheres of life including homes, the workplace and the health care sector. It is now quite clear that HIV/AIDS in India, too, is just a medical issue but also an issue that cuts across all economic, social and cultural realms. It is also an issue that does not affect particular groups but has an impact on all. It is important, therefore, that the tendency to blame a certain section of society needs to be combated if prevention and control efforts are to be effective.10

As the pandemic has grown, experiences reflect a consistent pattern through which discrimination, marginalization, stigmatization and more generally, a lack of respect for the human rights and dignity of individuals and groups heighten their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. Very often such discrimination stems from ignorance about the route of HIV/AIDS transmission and unwarranted fears of infection. Health programmes may also discriminate by failing to provide services tailored to the needs of the marginalized groups such as commercial sex workers, adolescent women, or racial and religious minorities.11 The ignorance and fear has led to harsh laws and measures that violate the rights and freedoms of those trying to avoid HIV infection and of those already living with HIV/AIDS.12

No one has experienced fear and courage, ignorance and insight, prejudice and acceptance, despair and home more fully or intensely than people living with HIV/AIDS. Yet this experience is not confined to just PLWHA but also those who are dependent on, related to or associated with a PLWHA. These persons include, spouse, partners, children, widowers, orphans, parents, other family members and friends of PLWHA. Clearly, this is a vast and significant segment of society. While developing and response and implementing and strategy vis-à-vis HIV/AIDS, the needs and experiences of this entire groups of people affected must also be considered.13

Thus I would end my essay with a sermon that “To care for the AIDS affected people is our duty and to prevent AIDS is our responsibility”. Let us work together in our endeavour towards an AIDS free society, a distant dream but a doable reality.

SELECT REFERNECES AND SOURCE MATERIALS

* AIDS, Health and Human Rights — An Explanatory Manual (1995), Harvard School of Public Health: Francois-Xavier Bagnound Centre for Health and Human Rights.
* HIV/AIDS and Human Rights; International Guidelines (Second International Consultation on HIV/AID and Human Rights, Geneva, 23-25 September 1996) (1998), Geneva: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and New York: United Nations.
* Kakar, D.N. (ed.) (1995): AIDS Prevention: The Emerging Challenge, Panchkula: The Environemnt Society of Haryana.
* Mathew, P.D. (1996); AIDS and Law, New Delhi: Indian Social Institute.
* Pavri, Khorshed M. (1992): Challenge of AIDS, New Delhi: National Book Trust, India.
* Report of an International Consultation on AIDS and Human Rights (Geneva, 26-28 Juy 1989) (1991), Geneva: Centre for Human Rights and New York: United Nations.
* Report of the National Conference on Human Rights and HIV/AIDS (New Delhi: 24-25 November 2000) (2000), New Delhi: Butterworths.

The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz and holds interest in researching and presenting an in-depth analysis of issues by quoting the best possible references.

You must be to comment.

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

Similar Posts

By India Fellow Social Leadership Program

By karina bhasin

By Love Matters India

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below