The protection of a full range of human rights is the key to protecting public health. Building on this reality, human rights activists have achieved great gains in the fight against AIDS: the right to nondiscrimination on the basis of HIV status; the right to treatment as part of essential health care; and the right of people living with HIV and AIDS to participate in the development of AIDS policies and programs. Yet some have criticized these activists as being more concerned with “individual rights” than with the public’s health. In fact, human rights are essential to public health and to a successful response to HIV.
- Human rights activists were among the first to emphasize the importance of increasing access to HIV testing as part of the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Recently, some proponents of “routine” HIV testing have accused human rights activists of allowing the “three Cs” of consent, counseling, and confidentiality to override the importance of widespread and early detection of HIV. Yet it is possible to increase access to HIV testing without sacrificing the three Cs, and easier to engage people in sustained HIV prevention and treatment efforts if the three Cs are protected. Moreover, efforts to increase access to HIV testing must be accompanied by vastly scaled-up efforts to confront the stigma and human rights abuses that deter people from seeking HIV tests in the first place, as well as increased access to antiretroviral treatment and evidence-based HIV prevention.
- Human rights activists have also led the fight for increased access to evidencebased prevention measures, insisting that governments provide access to information, condoms, needles and syringes, methadone, drugs needed to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child, and protection from violence and property rights abuses that increase vulnerability of women. These demands have been based both in human rights and in effective, science-based prevention.
“Why didn’t you tell us you’re a hemophiliac?” a nurse in a downtown Toronto teaching hospital asked activist James Kreppner when he was in hospital with an AIDS-related illness in the 1990s. “We would have treated you much better.”
—Ann Silversides, 2003