Human rights issues hold key to curbing infection

Human rights, funding, children and the youth, marginalised populations and scientifically based policy proved to be the hottest topics at this week’s International Aids Conference in Vienna, Austria.

The biennial event is the largest global conference on HIV/Aids, boasting 25 000 delegates. The conference theme, “Rights here, right now”, highlights a global push towards a human rights approach to HIV/Aids.

Central to this is the battle to combat the marginalisation and criminalisation of those most vulnerable to infection, such as sex workers, drug users and homosexuals. Increased rights for women—including expanded education, job opportunities and less gender-based violence—are all considered critical to reducing HIV rates.

Currently, women make up more than half of all new infections globally. Advocates pushed heavily for the replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight HIV/Aids, TB and Malaria, as well as continued financial commitment from donor countries.

Developing nations were urged to take greater economic responsibility for their own epidemics by cracking down on corruption and strengthening political and financial accountability. As the number of children and young people living with the virus increases, scientists are researching how antiretroviral therapy, or ART, may affect them differently from the way it does adults.

Of central concern is its impact on brain function and behaviour. Affected youngsters also had a strong presence at the conference, discussing the need for more targeted prevention and care strategies.

The booming HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe helped to determine Vienna’s hosting of the conference as a so-called “symbolic bridge between east and west”. Eastern Europe is experiencing the fastest rate of new infections in the world, with Russia and the Ukraine being most affected.

The Vienna Declaration calls for the inclusion of greater scientific evidence when forming policies on illicit drugs. It has received the support of four former Latin American presidents and a Nobel laureate. Drug use continues to be a major mode of transmission of HIV, accounting for one in every three new infections recorded outside sub-Saharan Africa.

 
Mara Kardas-Nelson

Mara Kardas-Nelson

Mara Kardas-Nelson is a journalist with the Mail & Guardian's Centre for Health Journalism, where she focuses on access to medicine, health policy, financing, and planning. She has been contributing to the Mail & Guardian since 2009, writing on a wide variety of topics ranging from the environment to development to local culture. In 2010 she shared a Mondi Shanduka Newspaper award with photographer Sam Reinders for their work on acid mine drainage in Gauteng and Mpumalanga. Her work has appeared in publications across Africa, North America, and Europe.  Read more from Mara Kardas-Nelson

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