The history of the HIV and AIDS epidemic started in illness, anxiety and mortality as the world encountered and handled a new and unidentified virus. It is commonly believed that HIV begun in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo around 1920 transmitted from chimpanzees to humans. The original earliest case where a blood sample could confirm the infection of HIV was from a blood sample taken in 1959 from a man living in the Kinshasa region. Available records suggests that the rampant spread of HIV and contemporary epidemic started in the mid- to late 1970s. During the 1980s, the HIV pandemic spread across South America, North America, Australia, Africa and Europe. The progress and efforts made in the last 30 years to prevent the disability and mortality due to HIV have been enormous. Despite the tremendous improvements regarding HIV research and support, progress remains hindered by numerous challenges. Originally, HIV was identified and diagnosed in men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, and sexually active people such as sex workers. HIV was perceived and declared a disease only deviant people get because they engage in inappropriate behavior; therefore, HIV and people infected with HIV have been subjected to a corresponding negative social image. Research and education has aided in countering the negative association of HIV transmittance. The CDC explains HIV transmittance takes place via “only certain body fluids—blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk—from a person who has HIV can transmit HIV.” People impacted by HIV, regardless of how it was transmitted, withstand constant stigmatization, discrimination and violations of their basic human rights. There is an inseparable link between human rights and HIV is now extensively acknowledged and accepted.
“Protecting, promoting, respecting and fulfilling people’s human rights is essential to ensure that they are able to access these services and enable an effective response to HIV and AIDS.”
Human rights treaties and laws play an essential role in protecting the rights of HIV positive populations. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) are all important documents that thoroughly elaborate the rights of all people, which include HIV positive individuals. Article 25 of the UDHR, Articles 10 – 12, and 14 of the CEDAW, and lastly Article 12 of the ICESCR all secure the human right of healthcare and the prevention, treatment and control of diseases. Finally, the ICESCR and the UDHR secures employment, cultural and community participation rights for individuals regardless of age, disabilities, illness, or any form of discrimination.
Human rights violations in the context of HIV
Access to health care services
In 2015, 36.7 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS, with the majority of HIV/AIDS positive individuals– 25.5 million – living in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, in 2017, only 46% of HIV positive adults and 49% of HIV positive children worldwide are receiving treatment, with large gaps in access to HIV testing and treatment in Africa and the Middle East. Individuals living in low-middle income locations face constant financial, social and logistical barriers to accessing diagnostic services and treatment. Some of the main obstacles individuals of lower income families’ face include the high costs of medical services, the lack of local and nearby health care facilities, and the inability to leave work to visit the doctor. vert Society asserts that stigma and discrimination from community and family influences the utilization of HIV healthcare services by HIV positive individuals. Additionally, the criminalization of HIV is also significantly affecting the access to HIV health care services. In 2014, 72 countries have implemented laws that allow HIV criminalization. Criminalization laws are usually either HIV specific, or either HIV is just one of the diseases covered by the law. HIV criminalization laws normalize, instigate and allow discrimination and stigma towards HIV positive individuals. HIV criminalization laws and socio-ecological barriers undermine HIV prevention efforts and do not decrease the rates of HIV.
Criminalization of men who have sex with men (MSM)
Currently, 76 countries around the world continue to criminalize same-sex conduct. Having these laws set up really discourages MSM and the public to get tested for HIV, transition into treatment, and disclose their information due to possible discrimination and arrest. A comparison between nations with anti-homosexuality laws and nations without such law shows considerably higher HIV prevalence rates among MSM in countries with anti-homosexuality laws compared to nations without such legislation. For example, Jamaica has strict anti-buggery laws but has a prevalence of HIV in over 30% of MSM, compared to Cuba that lacks anti-buggery and has a prevalence of HIV in less than 5% of MSM. These laws also make it particularly problematic for organizations providing sexual health and HIV services to reach men who have sex with men. Further research is needed to clarify the correlation between the criminalization of same-sex conduct and rates of HIV. The criminalization of MSM ultimately ignores the fact that HIV can be transmitted through various ways such as unintentional exposure, mother-to-child, and non-disclosure of HIV status which results in individuals not seeking health care services due to the fear of people assuming HIV was transmitted through a different route than how it was actually transmitted.
HIV disproportionately affects women and young girls because of unequal cultural, social, and economic standing in society. Gender based violence (GBV) is normalized in many societies. GBV such as rape, trafficking and early marriage makes it more difficult for women and adolescent girls to protect themselves against HIV. Women do not have power over sexual intercourse encounters. Women, in many cultures, are economically dependent on their male counterparts, making it increasingly difficult to choose their lifestyle choices. Additionally, due to the imbalanced gender power dynamic, women do not have control over family planning services, sex-based community rituals, or the choice to participate in safe sex. Studies reveal the impact of gender-based discrimination and HIV. According to one study, women living in Sub-Saharan Africa, on average have a 60% higher risk of HIV infection than their male counterparts. Another study analyzed the role of gender power imbalance on women’s ability to discuss self-protection against HIV/AIDS in Botswana and South Africa. Results concluded that “women with partners 10 or more years older than them, abused women, and those economically dependent on their partners who are less likely to suggest condom use to their partners. Gender power imbalance also influences men’s inclination towards refusing to use the suggested condom.” There is a great need to focus on women education, empowerment and self-confidence to suggest condoms, and lastly to educate and encourage men about safe sex. Gender inequalities towards women are addressed in the CEDAW; therefore, publicly and legislatively addressing the issues could significantly reduce HIV.
Millions of people have lost their lives fighting to make sure HIV positive people are able to live a long, healthy and quality filled lives. Even though we live in a country that does provide HIV healthcare services, the prevalence of HIV in the USA is still relatively high. The Human Rights Campaign reported in 2014 that Birmingham, Alabama had one of the highest rate of infection in the nation; however, the latest CDC report Birmingham is presently 12th, citing a myriad of reasons including a lack of sex education. We have and opportunity and need to stand up for each other, advocating for education and equality. There are various ways to get involved in advocating for human rights and HIV in our Birmingham community, including volunteering at local clinics: 1917 Clinic or Birmingham Aids Outreach. If you’re sexually active, you can help prevent the spread of HIV by knowing your status, getting tested, and talking openly about HIV. Constructive conversations aid in removing the stigma and fear attached to HIV because it becomes a part of the social discourse. An HIV/AIDS prognosis is a life changing event, not a life ending moment.