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HIV/AIDS Discrimination in Health Services is Human Rights Violation, new PAHO Report says

Washington, DC, November 26, 2003 (PAHO)—Discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS in hospitals, clinics and other health-service centers constitutes a human rights violation, according to a new report by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

The 56-page report says that many international bodies, particularly the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, have confirmed that the different international human rights treaties and agreements apply also to health care issues, including HIV/AIDS.

The report – to be released December 1, World AIDS Day -- notes that most Latin American and Caribbean countries have ratified international human rights conventions and thus committed themselves to uphold the human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS.

In addition, several countries in the Americas have approved legislation outlawing HIV/AIDS-related discrimination. Some of that legislation makes specifically links HIV/AIDS to human rights, as in Costa Rica, for example. Regarding health services, such laws usually reaffirm that persons with HIV/AIDS must not be denied appropriate care and treatment. Those laws also often regulate other responsibilities, such as confidentiality and the screening of blood products.

However, there often remains a considerable gap between this legal theory and the reality of people’s lives. Even in the health services, where people at risk of infection or living with HIV/AIDS seek and expect care and attention, stigma and discrimination have been common. Discriminatory acts include:

  • Inappropriate comments
  • Violation of patient confidentiality
  • Delayed treatment
  • Refusal to provide basic care and hygiene.

Discrimination in the health sector has a dramatic impact in the epidemic. Those who are discriminated against may suffer physically and psychologically, while those who fear discrimination may be reluctant to seek testing or treatment. Regardless of their HIV status, they are less likely to protect themselves and their partners against the virus.

The PAHO report called for, “well-designed and implemented programs to support health workers, reducing stress levels from fear, ignorance and prejudice, and enabling them to achieve a greater sense of satisfaction from caring for the men, women and children in their care.”

In addition, the report advises countries to enact legislation protecting the human rights of people with HIV/AIDS and to create national mechanisms to monitor adherence to human rights and cases of discrimination through an Ombudsman office or other domestic human rights agencies.

PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world’s oldest public health organization. PAHO works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and the quality of life of its people. It serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).

PAHO Member States today include all 35 countries in the Americas. France, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are Participating States. Portugal and Spain are Observer States, and Puerto Rico is an Associate Member.

For more information:

For more information, video material, or photographs please contact: Daniel Epstein, Area of Public Information, (202) 974-3459, e-mail: epsteind@paho.org, or Paulo Lyra, HIV/AIDS Unit, (202) 974-3937, e-email: lyrapau@paho.org.