Mandeep Dhaliwal is Director, HIV, Health & Development Practice, United Nations Development Programme
10 Dec 2013
Without a doubt there has been great progress in the AIDS response. The numbers tell us that the overall rates of new HIV infections are in decline.
However, this is not the case for typically excluded populations such as gay men and other men who have sex with men, women and men who inject drugs, sex workers and transgender people. In these groups, HIV is on the rise and alarmingly so.
For example, in Bangkok HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men rose from 11 percent in 2003 to 29 percent in 2011 and a review of available evidence from 15 countries found that over 19 percent of transgender women were living with HIV. At the same time, evidence points to worrying under-investment in health services for these very populations who bear a disproportionate burden of HIV.
Social marginalization, stigma and human rights abuses are often the reality for excluded groups worldwide, and these increase vulnerability to HIV.
Additionally, among people living with HIV, members of typically marginalized groups tend to experience heightened stigma and discrimination due to HIV-status. There is an urgent need to address the legal and policy barriers that intensify inequalities – including gender inequality – deepen marginalization and perpetuate violations of human rights.
The report of the UNDP-supported Global Commission on HIV and the Law provides a clear blueprint for addressing these barriers, and partners such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and malaria are calling for increased investment in human rights programmes.
On International Human Rights Day, as we recommit to making the protection and fulfillment of human rights a reality for all, let us set our sights on an ambitious goal - achieving substantive equality for all. This will require us to address the very roots of inequality and would yield benefits beyond HIV and health. Practically, this means :
• investing in legal empowerment for the very populations who continue to bear a disproportionate burden of HIV,
• facilitating law reform based on public health evidence and human rights,
• encouraging equitable law enforcement,
• and enhancing access to justice, including at the municipal level.
This would be a sound public health investment, and as we honour his legacy on this human rights day, a fitting tribute to Nelson Mandela’s prescient vision of dignity, equality and justice for all.