High Time to Listen to the Voices of the Communities
Ferenc Bagyinszky, the Project Manager of AIDS Action Europe, participated as NGO Observer at the 45th meeting of the #UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board #PCB45, which took place on December 10-12 in Geneva.
We would like to call your attention to his intervention made under to the agenda point: Report by the NGO Representative "If it is to be truly universal. Why universal health coverage will not succeed without people living with HIV and other key populations, women, and young people".
"Thank you, Chair. I am speaking on behalf of AIDS Action Europe.
Similar to the previous speakers, PCB members and observers, on behalf of my organization, AIDS Action Europe, I would also like to congratulate and acknowledge the NGO Delegation for bringing forward to this Board, year after year a topic that is imperative to the success of the HIV movement, but also for presenting these topics in a unique way, speaking with the voices and on behalf of the communities of people living with HIV and other key populations. Thank you for that.
The global interest and ongoing work towards achieving Universal Health Coverage represents a huge opportunity. It is a huge opportunity as UHC is the closest concept to the right to health our universal and fundamental human right. As formulated in the International Covenant on ECOSOC Rights: “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”
However, UHC also raises question, challenges and well-founded concerns that are based on our experiences as communities living with HIV and other key populations. The experiences include that regardless of rhetoric on a human rights-based approach in the HIV response, what our communities are facing, after more than 3 decades into the epidemic, are criminal and punitive laws, stigma and discrimination.
People who use drugs are still treated as criminals and are imprisoned in many countries worldwide, or are even victims of extrajudicial killings, while some member states won´t even acknowledge harm reduction as an effective response to the HIV and viral hepatitis epidemics among communities who use drugs.
While sex is one of our basic human needs, our sexual rights are still denied in many countries of the world. Transgender people, gay men and other members of the LGBT community are stigmatized and criminalised for their sexual life. Sex work in most countries is either criminalized via criminalizing the sex worker or their clients or it is overregulated, not serving the communities of sex workers but increasing their vulnerabilities. In many regions, women´s and young people´s sexual life and health is limited to their reproductive health. All these lead to deteriorated sexual health and increased vulnerability to HIV.
One could continue forever how moralizing and punishing social and legal environments, the criminalization of people living with HIV and other key populations fuel the HIV epidemic. We are all aware of this, we can see it from the reports, we can see it from the data. Still, actions on removing legal barriers to HIV service provision, the decriminalization of people living with HIV and other key populations is rather a rare example than the standard human rights-based public health response to HIV. This is not the way forward toward universal health coverage as unless we address and act on these fundamental issues in the HIV epidemic, human rights violations will continue to leave people behind, regardless if we attach “universal” to it.
HIV is showing us our negative human rights record, look at your incidence and prevalence data and you will know whom you are leaving behind by not delivering their human rights. HIV has also taught us a human rights-based approach is key to ending the epidemic.
On this International Human Rights Day, we cannot emphasize enough that it is high time to listen to the voices of the communities living with HIV and other key populations and deliver on creating enabling legal and social environments where everyone can enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.