HIV and AIDS and basic rights

Oxfam believes everyone has the right to a life of dignity and opportunity. HIV and AIDS pushes many families into poverty and poverty makes people more vulnerable to the disease. It is vital that this cycle is broken. Vulnerability to HIV is the lack of power of individuals and communities to minimize their risk of exposure to HIV infection and, once infected, to receive adequate care and support.

Children next to an HIV and AIDS prevention poster in Sierra Leone. Credit: Crispin Hughes/Oxfam.

HIV and AIDS hits the working-age population the hardest, leaving behind children and the elderly. 15 million children have been orphaned by the disease.

People’s livelihood and ability to generate income is affected if they become ill and valuable resources are then spent on treatment and care. By 2020, a fifth of the agricultural workforce in southern African countries will have been claimed by AIDS, which will have an enormous economic impact on families, communities and countries.

HIV and AIDS also affects health services as greater demands are made on overstretched staff and facilities. Education suffers because the skilled workforce is affected and school attendance falls as children are removed to care for families or to earn an income.

Those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS face stigma and discrimination. When myths, misinformation, taboos, prejudice and fear regarding HIV and AIDS predominate, fundamental human rights are repeatedly abused and violated. Many people with HIV feel they must hide their infections and are too frightened to ask for care and support for fear of facing discrimination in their communities. This is why awareness-raising and education work is so vital.

It also appears that HIV and AIDS prevalence is much higher amongst groups who already suffer from a lack of human rights protection, in particular women and girls.

Access to treatment

A nurse holding a range of medicines to treat opportunistic HIV infections such as TB. Credit: Annie Bungeroth/Oxfam.

Medication that slows the progression of the disease has been available since 1996. However, these drugs are so costly that they are virtually unobtainable to the vast majority of sufferers living outside of developed countries.

If you contract HIV in the rich world you can live a long a long life, but in the developing world, you usually die. Millions of people die each year simply because they cannot afford the essential medicines that might save their lives, called anti-retrovirals (ARVs). According to the World Health Organisation, by the end of last year, only 17 percent of the 4.7 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who were in need of ARVs received them.

Oxfam has campaigning globally for changes to the international trade rules that prevent poor countries from importing cheap versions of vital medicines. Oxfam and its allies were instrumental in getting agreement in the World Trade Organisation to ensure that governments must have the unambiguous right to obtain the cheapest possible life-saving medicines.

Gender and HIV and AIDS

The roles women and men play in society affect all aspects of the disease. Women are often less able to negotiate safe sex, suffer greater social stigma from being HIV positive, and as the principal family carers, may have added burdens if there is AIDS within the household.