Today, 1st December, 2013, marks the World AIDS Day, which is commemorated under the global theme “Getting to Zero- Zero new HIV infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS-Related deaths”, and the regional theme of “Getting to Zero in Africa- Africa’s Responsibility, Everyone’s Responsibility”.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), through its Committee on the Protection of the Rights of People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and Those at Risk, Vulnerable to and Affected by HIV (PLHIV Committee) recognises and applauds the fact that indeed, the collective responsibility for the AIDS response and the concerted efforts of diverse stakeholders over the years have resulted in significant progress in the HIV/AIDS response by the global community: for instance, the UNAIDS Report on the global AIDS epidemic in 2013 and UNAIDS 2013 – AIDS by the numbers indicate that fewer people are dying of AIDS-related causes, the number of new HIV infections is on the decline, there is a sharp reduction in the number of children newly infected with HIV, and a record number of people living with HIV are accessing lifesaving antiretroviral treatment.
However, notwithstanding this global success recorded, and indeed, the laudable leadership, political will, commitment and result oriented partnerships demonstrated by Africa’s top leadership within the framework of the African Union through the adoption of various initiatives for responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, including the Roadmap on Shared Responsibility and Global Solidarity for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Response in Africa (2012), and most recently the Abuja Actions Toward The Elimination of HIV and AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Africa by 2030 (2013), the PLHIV Committee notes with concern that Africa remains the continent most affected by HIV/AIDS, having about 71% of HIV-positive people in the world; 69.6% of new infections; 75% of HIV-related deaths and the highest prevalence rate (4.7%), globally.
Furthermore and more specifically, the PLHIV Committee wishes to highlight the disturbing increasing feminization of the virus on the continent, as women and girls are disproportionately impacted. The Committee notes that of the above-referenced dismal HIV/AIDS statistics on the continent, women constitute 58% of PLHIVs in Africa, and 92% of all pregnant women living with HIV are on the continent. In addition, young women in Sub-Saharan Africa between the ages of 15 and 24 are particularly vulnerable, with 3.1% living with HIV, versus 1.3% of young men.
Amongst others, gender inequality and unequal power relations between women and men continue to significantly influence the epidemic. Biological factors that make women and girls more vulnerable to HIV infection are exacerbated by socio-cultural and structural factors, such as poverty, harmful cultural practices, limited decision-making power, lack of control over financial resources, restricted mobility, violence, limited educational opportunities, and lack of quality sexual and reproductive health services.
Closing this vicious circle, women living with HIV (WLHIVs) in Africa experience HIV-related violations of various human rights guaranteed to them under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (“African Charter”), as well as the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa (“Women’s Protocol”), naming but a few: stigmatization, discrimination, violence due to HIV status, and gender inequality in accessing services and opportunities, resulting partly from laws, policies and practices of States, and the PLHIV Committee underscores in particular in this context, the peculiar problem of restricted access of WLHIVs to sexual and reproductive health care services resulting inter alia from stigmatization, breach of confidentiality, and most alarmingly, forced abortion and involuntary sterilization.
The PLHIV Committee deplores such practices which are a misguided approach towards curbing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and has to this end, recently adopted a Resolution on Involuntary Sterilisation and the Protection of Human Rights in Access to HIV Services. The Committee considers that such practices clearly have the effect of fuelling the epidemic on the continent, setting back the progress recorded in combating HIV/AIDS and inhibiting the continent from attaining the global agenda of Zero new HIV infections and Zero AIDS-Related deaths.
The PLHIV Committee therefore seizes the opportunity of this occasion of World AIDS Day, to call upon States Parties to the African Charter and the Women’s Protocol to take concrete measures to respect their commitments under these treaties and other regional and international instruments by putting in place legal frameworks that will effectively protect the rights of WHLIVs, PLHIVs, vulnerable persons and those at risk; enhance their access to appropriate HIV care, treatment and support; and ensure Zero Discrimination against them.
Furthermore, the PLHIV Committee calls on States Parties to the African Charter to adopt human-rights based and multi-sectoral approaches to their HIV responses, and also calls for the much-needed intensified, urgent and concerted efforts by all stakeholders on the continent to reverse the disquieting trend of the epidemic on the continent.
As suggested by the African Union theme for this occasion, we are confident that “Getting to Zero in Africa” is indeed possible, when each and every stakeholder shares responsibility and stays truly committed to the fight against the epidemic within their respective spheres of operation.
The PLHIV Committee would like to put a print on today’s commemoration by saying that: “There is no failure except in no longer trying. There is no defeat except from within. No really insurmountable barrier, save our own inherent weakness of purpose.” Getting to Zero in Africa is attainable through sincere shared responsibility by all!
Honorable Commissioner Lucy Asuagbor
Chairperson of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and Those at Risk, Vulnerable to and Affected by HIV
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
 Elbert Hubbard [1856-1915] Philosopher, Author, Publisher.