To be successful, the fight against HIV/AIDS must be driven and informed by human rights, argues Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, ahead of the International AIDS Conference taking place in Washington, DC, United States, from 22–27 July.
"The face of HIV has always been the face of our failure to protect human rights", says Pillay. Despite scientific advances, declining infection rates and improved availability of antiretroviral treatments even in low and middle-income countries, stigma and discrimination of HIV-positive people is still a widespread problem.
And "alarmist and misguided" policies are still prevalent around the world, including criminalising incidents such as non-intentional HIV transmission, targeting specific groups for testing, and restricting travel based on HIV status.
Pillay argues that in order to create a sustainable global response to the epidemic, a human rights approach is essential.
All people should be treated equally, she says, and those most at risk must be included in the creation of national HIV/AIDS policies. Public health strategies should be complemented by policies that do not increase vulnerability or result in human rights violations.
The "current economic crisis cannot be an excuse for diminishing our investment in the response to AIDS", notes Pillay, and although funding for access to antiretroviral treatment is essential, it is also essential to invest in human rights programmes to raise awareness, train healthcare providers and law enforcement officials, and educate young people about safe sex.
"Funding the fight against AIDS in this holistic fashion is not only necessary; it is also a human rights legal obligation," says Pillay.