Human Rights and HIV/AIDS experts say the discrimination and stigmatization of people infected with HIV/AIDS is worsening the global pandemic. They say one of the keys to fighting HIV/AIDS lies in addressing violations of rights of those who are infected.
The United Nations estimates nearly 40 million people in the world are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. More than three million adults and children were newly infected last year.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour says the statistics show HIV/AIDS is one of the greatest public health problems the world faces.
"What the figures, of course, do not reveal is the actual stories, the countless individual stories of the many indignities that are visited upon people, whose rights are denied as a result of their HIV status,” she said. “Women who are ostracized. HIV-positive men and women living in poverty, without basic health services, or access to adequate prevention, treatment or care."
Ms. Arbour says people infected with HIV suffer from all sorts of discrimination. She says they are marginalized, and stigmatization makes them fearful of coming forward and seeking help. All this serves to drive the disease underground. She says addressing the human-rights problems will help to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Michel Sidibe is UNAIDS director for country and regional support programs. He says sub-Saharan Africa is the worst affected region, with nearly 25.5 million people living with HIV. He says women and girls make up almost 57 percent of all people infected.
Mr. Sidibe tells of meeting a 14-year-old girl in northern Uganda, who was abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army. He says she was repeatedly raped, became pregnant and HIV-positive. He says she was rejected by her family, her community and friends. She was not allowed to continue school.
"When I left her, she was just asking me, 'What did I do to be denied to all my basic rights?' She is a double victim, of violence against women and discrimination and stigmatization against people living with HIV/AIDS," he noted.
The activists warn abstinence-only programs are not effective and often keep people from getting life-saving information, such as the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.