Stigma hinders HIV treatment

aids sign generic REUTERS

The world is making significant progress in coming to grips with the HIV epidemic, but in many countries stigma and lack of human rights remain.

The UN Joint Programme on HIV/Aids (UNaids) launched the 2012 Global Epidemic Report on Tuesday and reported significant declines in new infections among adults and children, with high numbers of people placed on antiretrovirals.

Still the region most severely affected, sub-Saharan Africa has shown progress, with an estimated 1.8 million new HIV infections in 2011 compared with 2.4 million in 2001.

Between 2005 and 2011, the number of people dying from Aids-related causes in sub-Saharan Africa declined by a third from 1.8 million to 1.2 million.

Since 2004, the number of tuberculosis-related deaths among people living with HIV has fallen by 28 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.

Arena

However, while there have been victories in the treatment and prevention arena – fear, ignorance and discrimination – in its worst forms, including abusive treatment and violence, remain in a number of countries.

According to data collected, more than half of people living with HIV in Zambia reported having been verbally abused as a result of their HIV status. One in five people living with HIV in Nigeria and Ethiopia reported feeling suicidal.

According to a nine-country study by the International Labour Organisation and the Global Network of People Living with HIV, the percentage of people living with HIV who reported discriminatory attitudes among employers ranged from 8 percent in Estonia to 54 percent in Malaysia.

As of 2012, 60 countries have adopted laws that specifically criminalise HIV transmission, with about 600 convictions reported in 24 countries.

According to a 2012 global review, more than 40 percent of UN member states (78 of 193 countries) criminalise same-sex relations, with some jurisdictions permitting imposition of the death penalty for convictions under such laws.

Laws deeming some aspect for sex work to be illegal are in place in the majority of countries, and are often used to justify harassment, extortion and violence against sex workers by police and clients, placing them at increased risk of HIV infection.

Some countries have reformed laws to decriminalise key populations at higher risk – Portugal decriminalised drug possession and use in 2000, while New Zealand adopted the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 that decriminalised sex work.

The report praised South Africa for declines in the number of children newly infected with HIV, which went down by between 40 and 59 percent from 2009 to 2011.

According to the report, 330 000 children were infected with HIV in 2011, almost halving the rate since 2003, when almost 600 000 children were infected.

More than 90 percent of the children who acquired HIV infection in 2011 live in sub-Saharan Africa, where the number of children newly infected fell by 24 percent from 2009 to 2011.

More people initiated antiretroviral therapy in 2011 than in any previous year, with the number of people living with HIV receiving treatment rising by 21 percent compared with data from 2010.


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