Do more than make some noise…
The theme of this year’s Zero Discrimination Day is make some noise. Raising our voices in solidarity for compassion, diversity, equality, inclusion and tolerance is core to our common humanity. Today we renew our commitment to achieving a world free of stigma and discrimination and a world where no one is left behind.
History has taught us that noise can be a powerful tool. Today we pay tribute to the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Intersex) community, people living with HIV and their friends, lovers, family members and allies who courageously mobilized to push past the chronic indifference and fear that characterized the early days of AIDS. Their tenacious advocacy means that today we have 18.2 million people on life-saving treatment and communities continue to hold governments to account, claiming their rights to participation, non-discrimination, information, access to treatment and new prevention technologies like pre-exposure prophylaxis.
The global AIDS response has also taught us that noise alone is not enough.
Without the elimination of HIV-related stigma and discrimination wherever it may be found – in families, communities, workplaces or health care settings - we will not succeed in ending the suffering caused by this epidemic. When people are able to participate with dignity in their daily lives without fearing discrimination and possible prosecution, they are more likely to seek health services.
Where the law empowers women, their vulnerability to HIV and violence is decreased. When those who bear a disproportionate burden of HIV across the world including sex workers, people who use drugs, men who have sex with men, and transgender people, don’t experience discrimination and are protected from violence, and where their informed consent is respected, they are much more likely to access HIV services.
Where stigma and discrimination do not stand in the way of proven HIV prevention interventions reaching those who use drugs and those who are prisoners, and where the law does not criminalize adult consensual sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, HIV prevention outcomes are improved.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has set an ambitious vision for ending the epidemics of AIDS, TB and malaria, achieving universal health coverage and leaving no one behind. Improving access to quality health services and social support, respect for dignity and equality, empowering the vulnerable and reaching those left the farthest behind requires increased investment in human rights programmes.
UNDP is working with governments, civil society, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and UN partners on human rights programmes to eliminate HIV-related stigma and discrimination. For example, UNDP and WHO have developed and rolled out the “The Time has Come” training package, which aims to reduce stigma and discrimination against men having sex with men and transgender people in health care settings. This training package has already been adopted into national training programmes in Bhutan, Indonesia, India, the Philippines and Timor-Leste.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, UNDP has supported civil society and the mayors of five municipalities to conduct sensitization campaigns on HIV and human rights, which contributed to 3000 sex workers, LGBTI people and injecting drug users voluntarily accessing HIV testing. About 60, 000 people including police officers, lawyers, magistrates, health workers, journalists, people living with HIV and vulnerable groups have been sensitized on HIV-related human rights issues.
In South Sudan, where on-going conflict means that displacement and violence are rife, UNDP and the Global Fund have supported the training of health workers to respond to gender based violence and refer survivors to a range of appropriate services.
In South Asia, UNDP’s engagement with human rights institutions has resulted in 17 Human Rights Commissions developing action plans to promote and protect human rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity. For the first time, human rights institutions in Nepal and Bangladesh have dedicated staff to address violations against at-risk populations.
The AIDS response is at a critical juncture. Despite the impressive progress in treatment access and the reductions in AIDS-related deaths, declines in new HIV infections among adults have stalled and new HIV infections are even rising in some regions. We need to protect our gains, address growing health inequities and reach the most vulnerable at a time where the criminalization of these groups is actually intensifying in many places.
Making some noise must be accompanied by investments to scale up human rights programmes that respect dignity, reduce stigma and discrimination and reach those furthest behind. According to UNAIDS, a mere 0.13 percent of total AIDS spending in low- and middle‑income countries is allocated for human rights programmes. The work of civil society organizations and community, core to the fight for dignity and equality, needs to be supported now more than ever. This will not only accelerate progress in HIV, it will also yield benefits for health and development outcomes across the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.