Report urges stronger legal protections for women and girls affected by HIV in health care settings

Nov 21, 2013

Photo: UN Photo/Kibae Park

Bangkok – A report from four Asian countries reveals serious gaps in the legal means of protection of the rights of HIV-affected women and girls in health care settings. Human rights violations include discriminatory treatment by medical workers, breaches of confidentiality, forced sterilization and abortions, denial of services and care, and misinformation on standards of care.

The research was issued in Bangkok this week during the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific in a report entitled, Protecting the rights of key HIV-affected women and girls in health care settings: A legal scan. It offers strong evidence from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal that some health care institutions are sites of discrimination, violence and abuse towards HIV-affected women and girls who seek service. 

It was jointly produced by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation in Law (SAARCLAW) and Women of the Asia Pacific Plus (WAP+).

The report examines existing constitutional provisions and legal means in those countries to provide protection or redress for violations of rights at health care facilities. Its findings show that the constitutions in all four countries guarantee equality under the law and prohibit discrimination based on sex, yet there are only a few laws or legal mechanisms that women can use to protect their rights in health care settings.

“Many HIV-affected women continue to face extreme discrimination, neglect and abuse from health professionals. This leads women to avoid health care services, which compromises the health of both women and children,” says Nukshinaro Ao, Coordinator of Women of Asia Pacific Plus.

According to the research, the laws that do exist like the Pakistan Reproductive Healthcare and Rights Act, lack effective implementation measures or penalties. Codes of Conduct for physicians in these countries, as in the Bangladesh Medical and Dental Council Act, also afford some level of protection, but remain largely ineffectual given the limited resources allocated for monitoring. 

“This research shows that large numbers of women whose rights have been violated at health care settings do not have any recourse to justice,” says Clifton Cortez, UN Development Programme (UNDP) Team Leader for HIV, Health and Development in Asia and the Pacific.

The report says that what is needed most is a comprehensive body of national and local legislation that:

  • Provides a detailed definition of discrimination, including in health care settings.
  • Sets out sanctions and penalties for health care practitioners who violate the law.
  • Identifies or establishes a means for patients to lodge complaints against health care workers
  • Is applicable to private hospitals and health care centres.
  • Contains special provision for women, including that they receive appropriate counseling and information on procedures like HIV tests and treatment, sterilizations and abortions.
  • Specifically explains protocols relating to confidentiality and informed consent regarding HIV testing.
  • Requires health care facilities to train health care workers in a range of HIV-related issues including basic facts, confidentiality, consent and patients’ rights.
  • Protects the rights of health care workers by providing equipment and materials necessary for universal precautions ensuring a safe working environment.

Intergovernmental bodies such as SAARCLAW have a key role to play. “We are committed to social justice and can play a key role in encouraging legal reforms and disseminating information on progressive decisions, related to human rights, across the legal community in South Asia,” says Hemant Batra, Secretary General of SAARCLAW.

Contact information
Cherie Hart, Regional Communications Adviser
Phone: +66 2 304 9100 ext. 2133
Fax: +66 2 280 2700

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