human rights

Speakers at the Inaugural Conference on Global Health, Gender and Human Rights. {Photo credit: PAHO/WHO.}Photo credit: PAHO/WHO.

Health is a human right and should not be denied based on any factor, including gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.

On March 21 and 22, 2012, law students, global health professionals, and human rights experts gathered at the Inaugural Conference on Global Health, Gender and Human Rights at American University to discuss tackling global health issues from a human rights perspective.

Co-hosted by the American University Washington College of Law, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Guatemala, the two-day conference focused on six crucial topics: disabilities, women's and adolescent girls’ health, gender identities, older persons, access to medicines, and tobacco control.

Speakers and participants articulated the important role gender and human rights play in the promotion of health around the world.

Dr. Sima Samar speaking on 'How to advance women's rights in developing countries.' {Photo from World Bank webcast, March 5, 2012.}Photo from World Bank webcast, March 5, 2012.

On Monday, March 5, 2012, everyone from policymakers to students gathered at the World Bank for a Special Event on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Women’s Rights.

CEDAW is a treaty that has been ratified worldwide by all but six countries --- the United States, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, and two small Pacific Island nations (Palau and Tonga).

The event was hosted by Caroline Anstey, Managing Director of the World Bank, in conjunction with the Nordic Trust Fund, The Leadership Conference Education Fund, and the United Nations Foundation.

MSH CEO, Jonathan Quick, MD, MPH moderates panel on AIDS, Human Rights, and Vulnerable Populations (Ben Greenberg/MSH)

Human rights are no longer considered peripheral to the AIDS response. Human rights are an essential tool of public health. 80% of countries explicitly acknowledge or address human rights in their national AIDS strategies. However, 80 countries still have punitive laws against people with HIV which pose significant challenges to the AIDS response

In the past decade, there have been some major developments in the HIV epidemic. New cases have decreased, 5 million people are now on treatment, and people are discussing the importance of human rights in relation to the disease. However, 33 million people are infected and only one-third of those in need of treatment are receiving it.

Over 33 million people are currently living with HIV & AIDS throughout the world. Despite great strides in slowing the epidemic, there remains a stunning gap in prevention, care, and treatment efforts. This is especially true for most-at-risk-populations, which include commercial sex workers (CSWs) and their clients, injecting drug users (IDUs), men who have sex with men (MSM), and prisoners. People in these risk groups are so stigmatized and discriminated against in many countries that it becomes extremely difficult – sometimes impossible – to provide them with much-needed HIV prevention, care and treatment services. Even more, MARP behaviors often are illegal, which then compromises needed action and support from government authorities.

Denial of such basic human rights as access to prevention, care, and treatment for the most-at-risk-populations is unacceptable. It leaves those most in need underserved and severely marginalized. As World AIDS Day 2010 approaches with this year’s message of “Universal access and human rights,” I am reflecting on the specialized HIV interventions that MSH helps provide to most-at-risk populations.

The AIDS 2010 conference theme “Rights Now, Right Here” was delivered loudly, clearly, and passionately throughout the week in Vienna as delegates discussed the practical and urgent implications for truly gaining universal access to HIV treatment, prevention, and care. Over 10 million HIV positive people are without access to treatment, without universal access, the MDGs will not be achieved by 2015.

Human rights violations are a barrier to learning about the epidemic or receiving critical prevention information. Some HIV positive people are subject to unethical surveillance. Human rights violations contribute to transmission of HIV (such as from rape in prisons or domestic violence) and, in too many countries, being HIV positive is a criminal offense. Stigma, discrimination, and persecution are all huge barriers to HIV testing, care, and support. Universal access to human rights by all is what will lead to universal treatment, prevention, and care, not the reverse. Realizing the full protection of human rights is the first step to enhancing efficiency in these programs. The right to live life free of stigma and discrimination and the right to health care including treatment, prevention, care, and needle exchange and substitution treatment are essential.

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