December 3, 2010
Access and Human Rights for persons living with HIV


Wednesday December 1 was celebrated around the world as World AIDS Day under the theme: Universal Access and Human Rights.

Our celebrations here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines were somewhat muted because of the activities surrounding the upcoming elections, but the reality and impact of HIV and AIDS on our society should never be downplayed or underestimated.{{more}}

World AIDS Day provides an opportunity for us to stop and remember those we have lost over the years; here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines 565 persons have died from the disease since we started recording in 1984; most of these persons were at the productive peak of their lives.

World AIDS Day also provides us with an opportunity to reflect on how well we here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are doing in relation to the human rights of the persons infected and affected by HIV; and their access to care, jobs, education, housing, etc.

Since 1984, 1,200 persons tested positive for HIV/AIDS in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Of these, 718 were male, 464 female and the sex of 18 was unknown at the time of testing. These statistics follow the worldwide trend of more males testing positive than females, but Carl Browne, Executive Director of PANCAP (Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS), addressing the Annual General Meeting of the House of Hope Society on November 26, noted that in 1999, 35 per cent of the HIV cases in the Caribbean were women, today, that number is 50 per cent. Browne pointed out that that figure indicates a high level of risk and vulnerability among our women, particularly young women, who show infection rates three times as high as their male counterparts.

This rise in rates among women, particularly young women, is directly linked to poverty and the dependence of women on men. This underscores the critical importance of the programmes in our country which seek to level the playing field in terms of access to education, jobs and opportunity.

Available statistics indicate that at present, we have 635 persons living with HIV/AIDS in our country. The availability of free anti-viral and other treatments for persons with AIDS have tremendously improved their quality of life and life expectancy.

The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day reminds us that the persons living with HIV/AIDS among us have the right to non discrimination; the right to equal protection and equality before the law; the right to privacy; the right to freedom of movement; the right to work; the right to equal access to education, housing, health care and protection from harassment.

Because of the tremendous stigma that still goes along with a positive test for HIV, persons living with HIV here still face tremendous discrimination. Just a few months ago, SEARCHLIGHT carried a story about an HIV positive man who was laid off from his job because his co-workers expressed their discomfort with working with him. The man, who had worked for years in the construction industry, was still healthy and wanted to work to be able to provide for himself and his family, but no one would hire him. How sad!

It is for reasons such as these why most HIV positive people in our society never let those around them, even members of their immediate family, know about their status. This is also the reason why so many people refuse to get tested to know their HIV status. Approximately 8, 000 Vincentians are tested for HIV each year. However, the records show that only about 2, 000 of these came forward voluntarily to find out their status.

Early diagnosis is one of the effective means of preventing the spread of the disease. If the person is negative, he or she can begin to practise safe sex if they had not been doing so before, while if the person is positive, he or she can seek medical attention early to maintain his or her quality of life at an optimal level, and take steps to protect their sexual partners.

Are the infected persons living among us are experiencing the rights they are entitled to? If even one of these rights is denied we need to do better. Do you know your HIV status? If not, why not? Is there anything you can do to decrease the incidence of discrimination experienced by persons living with HIV? Let’s ponder on these things, even in the midst of the elections.