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Why a human rights approach to HIVAIDS makes all the difference

Working papers

As always happens in human rights, numerous and widespread abuses prompted condemnation and the strengthening of human rights safeguards. In HIV/AIDS, these safeguards proved indispensable for both prevention and treatment. Although it took twenty years, human rights protection has finally been declared as the key to reducing vulnerability to HIV/AIDS: ‘The full realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all is an essential element in a global response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, including in the areas of prevention, care, support and treatment because] it reduces vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and prevents stigma and related discrimination against people living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS’ (UN, 2001). The affirmation of human rights as ‘an essential element’ was evidence-based: the risk of infection for professional blood donors or through sexual intercourse for young girls cannot be decreased unless and until they have alternative means to secure their livelihoods. Moreover, the erroneous rationale that people who can transmit the infection will do so had led to criminalisation. The awareness of the illogic of criminalising people for the presence of HIV antibodies in their blood led to the shift from exclusion to inclusion. Involving people with HIV/AIDS proved indispensable for both prevention and care.

This background paper for ODI's event series on Human Rights and Poverty Reduction investigates these issues.

Katarina Tomasevski