by Mark Josef Rapa LLD, LLM (Healthcare Ethics and law) Member of the European AIDS treatment Group (EATG)
“One in 8 people living with HIV report having faced discrimination in health care settings. We must treat people equally with respect and dignity”, Michel Sidibe the executive director of UNAIDS was reported saying at the UNAIDS zero-discrimination panel discussion on the 1st March.
Respect and dignity towards each other irrespective of gender, sex, religion and also HIV status is at the very heart of being a humane human being. One need only to look within one’s own circle of friends or even family members to see how we all have, in some way or another, been discriminated against. I think we would all agree that such differential treatment upsets us and sometimes, angers us. We have every right to and should get angry; that anger could be the foundation of advocating for change.
Over the years, people living with HIV have reached out to various communities, to those who they identified as possible allies, to eliminate stigma, discrimination and victimization. The preamble to the Denver Principles sees to this; “We condemn attempts to label us as ‘victims,’ a term that implies defeat, and we are only occasionally ‘patients,’ a term that implies passivity, helplessness, and dependence upon the care of others. We are ‘People With AIDS.’
Each and every one of us, irrespective of HIV status is morally bound to ascertain that all the members of society are treated at par with each other with no differential treatment in any setting, be it health care, schools, workplace and so on. It goes without saying that in the field of HIV the fear of being discriminated against is one of the fears behind getting tested, taking ARV and even from making use of preventative measures such as Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
Rather than discriminating against the sexual practices people engage in or their HIV status, we should come together and see that each and every one of us is getting the best possible treatment, be it ARV or preventative. It is only then that we can end HIV. The advancements in science have shown us that this is possible. Discrimination is, however, not part of the equation.
The way individuals acquired HIV is a very personal story; we activists, have no right to engage in. It is up to that individual to share their story when and if they are ready. What matters is that we are supportive of people living with HIV, ascertain that the nature of the virus does not attract distasteful comments or termination letters from employers.