Sexual Violence and HIV/AIDS

Sexual violence can take many forms. It violates the most basic of human rights, and its effects resonate long after the act. It also perpetuates the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV infection.

In the developing world 2 out of 3 young people living with HIV are female.

In some countries in Africa young women are five times more likely to be infected than young men.

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Human Rights and HIV/AIDS

Today the United Nations marked World AIDS Day by highlighting the connection between human rights promotion and successful efforts to combat the HIV/AIDS.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an urgent end to discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS. “I urge all countries to remove punitive laws, policies and practices that hamper the AIDS response, including travel restrictions against people living with HIV,” said Mr. Ban. “Successful AIDS responses do not punish people; they protect them.”

We must ensure that AIDS responses are based on evidence, not ideology, and reach those most in need and most affected,” said the Secretary-General. “On this World AIDS Day, let us uphold the human rights of all people living with HIV, people at risk of infection, and children and families affected by the epidemic.

Progress in reversing the AIDS epidemic in some countries is outpaced by new infections on a global scale making AIDS one of the leading causes of premature death worldwide.  For every two people who begin treatment, five become newly infected with HIV. Women and girls have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS.

  • Worldwide, women constitute half of all people living with HIV/AIDS.
  • Globally and in every region, more adult women (15 years or older) than ever before are now living with HIV.
  • Women are at least twice as likely to acquire HIV from men during sexual intercourse than vice versa.
  • Only 20% of young women aged 15 to 24 correctly identify ways of preventing HIV transmission and reject major misconceptions about HIV transmission.
  • In low- and middle-income countries, only one-third of pregnant women are currently offered services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, women constitute 59% of all people living with HIV/AIDS. Among young people aged 15-24, the HIV prevalence rate for young women is almost three times higher than the rate among young men.

For this reason, laws that criminalize HIV transmission, such as the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill before the Ugandan legislature, can result in disproportionate prosecution of women and girls because more women are tested as part of pre- or ante-natal medical care and therefore know their HIV status. Women’s and girl’s inability to safely negotiate condom use or disclosure to partners who might have been the source of their infection is not recognized in this bill as defenses against criminal penalties. Women who transmit HIV to their infants after birth via breast milk would also be subject to criminal prosecution.

The punitive approach of this bill is likely to make people shy away from requesting testing or treatment. Experience has shown that programs that emphasize prevention and reduce stigma are far more effective in combating HIV/AIDS and are better for women and girls.

Wealthy Nations have a Moral Obligation to Help Africa Fight AIDS

Michel Sidibe, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, said yesterday that he is worried that funding commitments to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic are in jeopardy because of the global financial crisis.

An estimated 33.2 million people worldwide are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS and 25 million have died so far from the fatal and incurable disease. Africa is the hardest hit continent. Last year 1.7 million people died there because of the disease.

In 2005,  at the G8 summit in the Scottish town of Gleneagles, the world’s wealthiest industrialized democracies promised to provide universal access to anti-HIV drugs in Africa by 2010 — an undertaking costing billions of dollars. As a result, 3.5 million people in Africa began treatment. Now, as countries focus on trying to revive their own economies it is feared that money earmarked for fighting AIDS will be diverted for other purposes. Already, Global Fund, which pools donations to fight infectious diseases, has reported that it is $4 billion short of the amount needed to fund AIDS projects it was already running or had committed to financing.

The challenge facing the world right now is how to fix the economy without losing our compassion. The financial crisis does not absolve us from our responsibilty to be care for the most vulnerable among us. Wealthy  nations have a moral obligation to keep their promise to help Africa fight AIDS. We must not abandon people on treatment or leave Africa’s 14 million AIDS orphans without help. Now is not the time for the world to falter in its committment to making drugs and treatment, particularly for the poorest of the poor, accessible and affordable.