Address from U.N. Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS for the Caribbean on 1st ever Zero Discrimination Day

Zero Discrimination Day” was marked for the first time on 1 March. Spearheaded by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the commemoration promotes everyone’s right to lead full and dignified lives regardless of what they look like, where they come from and who they love. The global campaign underlines the fact that we cannot combat HIV without addressing attitudes and the way people relate.

{IMAGE VIA - depositphotos.com} In the Caribbean more than 100,000 persons living with HIV are on life-saving treatment. Since 2001 there's been a 54% decline in AIDS-related deaths and a 49% fall in new infections. But the ostracism and stigma faced by people living with HIV, men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgendered people and other key populations, continue to slow progress toward reducing new HIV infections and preventing AIDS-related deaths.

{IMAGE VIA - depositphotos.com} In the Caribbean more than 100,000 persons living with HIV are on life-saving treatment. Since 2001 there’s been a 54% decline in AIDS-related deaths and a 49% fall in new infections. But the ostracism and stigma faced by people living with HIV, men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgendered people and other key populations, continue to slow progress toward reducing new HIV infections and preventing AIDS-related deaths.

“Notwithstanding the strides we have made in prevention and treatment, our attitudes, the way we treat one another and fear about being discriminated against continue to undermine our efforts,” said the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy on HIV to the Caribbean, Dr. Edward Greene.

People are less likely to get tested for HIV if they will be treated with scorn or derision by healthcare workers, friends, family members and their communities. Soon-to-be-released findings from public opinion surveys commissioned by the UNAIDS Caribbean Regional Support Team in several Caribbean countries show that the main reason people are discouraged from getting tested for HIV is their concern about the stigma they would face if news of a positive result gets out.

We now know that early and full HIV treatment can both save lives and prevent new HIV infections. However, the fear of going to clinics for medicines and check-ups leads many people to delay starting treatment. Others stop taking their medicines because they become despondent about the discrimination they face.

The Special Envoy is spearheading the “Justice for All” initiative. Led by the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP) and supported by UNAIDS, this series of country-level and regional dialogues will engage government, civil society, faith groups, the private sector and young people on how to build solidarity and tolerance for all people, regardless of race, class, gender or sexual orientation.

Greene stressed that even as the dialogues and awareness-raising continue, governments have a responsibility to take practical measures to protect the rights of the most vulnerable and give them access to protection, health and justice.

The AIDS response can teach the Caribbean lessons about tolerance and compassion. Everyone has a right to health and dignity. People must insist on it and governments must assure it,” Dr. Greene said.

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