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Zero Discrimination – Be the change you want to see

Submitted by unaidsadmin on Tue, 2016-03-01 00:00 - 0 Comments

By Dr. César Núñez, UNAIDS Latin America and Caribbean Director

More than 65 years after the United Nations General Assembly approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, discrimination is still a reality in our societies. Prejudice in healthcare settings, at work, school and in other spheres, are undermining opportunities for people to participate fully in society and to care for their families and themselves. This week, Zero Discrimination commemorations offer an opportunity to reflect on everyone’s responsibility to help build an inclusive and just society.

Imagine a young woman, newly diagnosed with HIV. She is advised by health personnel not to have children although we know that with treatment a woman living with the virus can give birth to an HIV-free child. Think now of a sex worker facing abuse from a nurse; a gay man who decides not to approach a health centre for fear of revealing his sexual orientation; a migrant who is denied treatment. Unfortunately, these cases still occur throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

The stigma and discrimination that persist in health centres are linked to late detection of new cases of HIV and the difficulty of retaining people living with HIV in care. According to a regional analysis of stigma and discrimination in Latin America, between 7% and 40% of people living with HIV avoid going to a health centre or hospital when they need it, for fear of discrimination. Recent stigma and discrimination studies in four Caribbean countries found that at least one of every five healthcare workers reported observing a co-worker being unwilling to care for a patient living with HIV. About one in ten respondents said they would prefer not to provide services to men who have sex with men and sex workers.

Vulnerability to HIV in this region is largely due to social exclusion which acts as a barrier to access HIV prevention, treatment and care. Punitive laws or policies relating to sexual orientation, gender identity, sex work and drug use contribute to discrimination and violence and are barriers to an AIDS response based on human rights and scientific evidence. In the Anglophone Caribbean, for example, 11 countries still criminalise sex between men. (The Bahamas is , of course, an exception.) Across the region sex workers are still arbitrarily detained and assaulted.

The new UNAIDS Strategy 2016-2021, in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals objectives, promotes universal respect of human dignity, the rule of law and justice. Human rights and gender equality are essential for effective and sustainable responses to HIV. In 2014 UNAIDS launched the Accelerated Action approach. We have five years left to scale up efforts in the AIDS response in order to end the epidemic as a public health threat by 2030, or risk it resurging with greater force. It will not be possible to achieve the goals of reducing new infections and AIDS deaths without reaching zero discrimination.

Last year, representatives of the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean agreed on a set of zero discrimination targets to end AIDS in the region. They also agreed to work on creating favourable legal environments for people who are living with, or are affected by, HIV. In order for these goals to be fulfilled the initiative now requires commitment at the highest level together with the involvement of the communities whose voices are essential to advancing social justice.

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The UNAIDS team offers the Caribbean the broad expertise of cosponsors and other UN organisations in areas such as program development and management, women and child health, education, legal networking, community care initiatives and resource mobilisation. The goal is an expanded response to HIV in the region with the world’s second highest HIV prevalence.