Basic rights are key to battling Aids

Aids and human rights are so closely linked that any attempt to stop the spread of the killer virus must also fight against poverty and exclusion, the French chapter of Amnesty International said on Sunday to mark World Aids Day.

“Human rights standards are not an option but an essential part of the fight against Aids. Social exclusion, poverty and discrimination are intrinsically tied to HIV/Aids,” the group said in a statement.

“People at risk of contamination by the Aids virus exist on the fringes of society and lack the most basic rights—the right to live free of discrimination, the right to an education, the right to physical integrity, the right to medical care and economic security,” it said.

The rights group called on governments to improve public health services and make efforts to “overcome prejudice, disinformation and discrimination that dominate in the public view”.

Despite active measures to stem the spread of the worldwide epidemic, including the UN-backed World Aids Day entering its 15th year, too many live ignorant of prevention methods and deprived of treatment, Amnesty said.

According to the latest figures, released earlier this week by UN’s specialist agency UNAids and the World Health Organisation (WHO), five-million people this year will have become infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and some 3,1-million will have died from Aids.

An estimated 42-million people worldwide suffer from Aids or are HIV-infected.

In South Africa, Western Cape premier Marthinus van Schalkwyk said the capacity for rapid response was possibly the most important element in the national fight the virus.

“In much the same way as any successful war is waged, the war on HIV/Aids requires a number of vital elements to be in place if we are to achieve victory. Perhaps the single most important of these elements is to create the capacity for rapid response,” he said in a speech prepared for delivery at a ceremony on Robben Island.

Van Schalkwyk said that despite the millions of deaths and tens of millions of infections, many nations, leaders and people continued to see Aids as “someone else’s problem”.

He called for increased political commitment to fighting the pandemic. Aids could not be “fought by committee”.

“After 21 years, it is time for our war against HIV/Aids to come of age.”

Meanwhile, Britain’s latest health figures, released on Saturday, show that the number of people diagnosed with HIV this year has risen by a quarter over 2001.

The Public Health Laboratory Service said 2 945 new diagnoses of the virus reported in the nine months to September 30—a 25% increase from the same period last year.

Kevin Fenton, head of the centre’s HIV division, said the number of annual diagnoses had almost doubled since the late 1990s.

“We were very concerned last year when we saw a record number of new HIV diagnoses, but these latest figures are even more disturbing,” he said.

“We are not only diagnosing infections that were acquired many years ago. HIV is a current, not historical problem.”

HIV continues to spread in Britain despite government education campaigns. - Sapa-AFP

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