"The goal of realizing human rights is fundamental to the global fight against AIDS. And in a world facing a terrible epidemic – one that has already spread further, faster and to more devastating effect than any other in human history – winning the fight against AIDS is a precondition for achieving rights worth enjoying."
—Dr Peter Piot, UNAIDS Executive Director
Protecting people living with, or affected by, HIV, with an emphasis on those who are especially vulnerable — and preventing its further spread — is a major development and human rights challenge. Stigma, silence, discrimination, privacy issues and denial of psychosocial and medical services, including antiretroviral treatment, undermine prevention and care efforts. The fact that the epidemic is increasingly affecting young people and women, who may have limited power to refuse sex or negotiate safer sex, brings additional human rights dimensions to this tragic disease.
The Fund’s experiences in addressing the AIDS epidemic have confirmed that the promotion and protection of human rights constitute an essential component in preventing transmission of HIV and lessening its impact. A human rights-based approach to programming implies that interventions must be holistic and take into considerations both the multiple aspects and human rights issues linked to the pandemic. For this reason, partnerships and alliances, such as the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), of which UNFPA is a co-sponsor, help bring together the various expertise and added value of the numerous actors. NGOs and donors have important roles to fill as well.
Programming success often relies on empowering individuals to discuss issues that concern them and to claim their rights to life, health, information, freedom from discrimination, and to be part of the social and economic life. Addressing the stigma associated with HIV and bringing the issue into the public sphere are critical to protecting the rights of those affected. Programmes must be designed with participation of the people (rights holders) they are intended to serve, and must have clear-cut strategies to be inclusive at all levels, from national plans to community led-interventions. In addition, legal mechanisms should be established or reinforced to ensure compliance of the different duty bearers (governments, service providers, community leaders) to meet their responsibilities to people infected or affected by AIDS.
The rights of people living with HIV or AIDS (PLWHA) in Haiti now have greater protection, thanks to a project designed by UNFPA, in collaboration with UNAIDS and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The project provided technical assistance and resources to five independent associations that support the rights of PLWHA. Leaders from these associations, in turn founded the 'Unity Platform of Haitian Associations of PLWHA', which has quickly become a key player in the Haiti’s national response to the epidemic. The organization maintains a nationwide database recording instances where the human rights of PLWHA have been violated. It also fights for the reproductive rights of its membership, and successfully lobbied the Ministry of Health for expanded access to condoms (supplied by UNFPA) and information and services to help HIV-positive women and their partners prevent transmission of the virus to their children.
UNFPA’s focuses its HIV prevention among vulnerable groups – including young people, pregnant women, and those in humanitarian crises. Empowering young people to push for their right to protect themselves against HIV is another rights-based strategy that UNFPA supports, through programmes such as Global Youth Partners and Y-PEER. The Fund also calls attention to the gender inequalities that fuel the epidemic, and mainstreams gender issues into all its HIV programming.
As a co-sponsor of UNAIDS, UNFPA is part of efforts to end stigma and discrimination associated with the disease, and to set standards to advance human rights within the context of HIV/AIDS. It also works to strengthen civil society networks (see box) and engage legislators and others in the human rights dimensions of the epidemic.
The fundamental human rights of people living with HIV are often violated based on their known or presumed HIV status. UNFPA has stressed that all HIV prevention programmes should ensure that relevant international human rights instruments are applied and mainstreamed.