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African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Press Release: World AIDS Day - 2014

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), joins the international community in commemorating World AIDS Day, today, 1st December 2014, under the theme of Close the Gap which means empowering and enabling all people everywhere to access the services they need by 2030, resounding with the new HIV treatment target named 90-90-90  which aims at: 90% of people tested, 90% of people living with HIV on treatment and 90% of people on treatment with suppressed viral loads, by 2020.

This day is meant to give an opportunity to everyone worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS, show support for PLHIV, and remember those who have been lost to the epidemic. It is important to do so because despite the significant progress in the HIV/AIDS response by the global community and the advancements made in fighting the scourge, the fight is far from being over as Africa continues to remain the continent most affected by HIV/AIDS, accounting for about 70% of the global total of new HIV infections (WHO Fact Sheet N°360).

Indeed, UNAIDS has recently reported that if the world does not rapidly scale up in the next five years, the epidemic is likely to spring back with a higher rate of new HIV infections than today (Fast Track: Ending the AIDS Epidemic by 2030, November 2014). In fact, we have five years to either break the epidemic for good or risk it rebounding out of control. 

There is therefore an urgent need to sustain the progress made, and scale up the response to meet the current challenges, if we are to attain 90-90-90 by the year 2020. UNAIDS in the referenced report states that "[t]o reach this visionary goal after three decades of the most serious epidemic in living memory, countries will need to use the powerful tools available, hold one another accountable for results and make sure that no one is left behind.

The PLHIV Committee therefore seizes the opportunity of this occasion of World AIDS Day, to call upon States Parties to 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 (Womens Protocol) to review and redefine their HIV/AIDS strategies and responses, to ensure that they remain relevant to the current status of the epidemic.

Taking into consideration that the epidemic has metamorphosed over the years to a diverse nature requiring specific responses, effort needs to be refocused on the drivers of the epidemic and current trends in the epidemiology, including: gender inequality and harmful gender norms in a number of States which continue to affect the capacity of women and girls to protect themselves from HIV; the rising incidence of HIV among key populations; the global economic downturn; the effect of the emergence of the Ebola epidemic which is currently affecting the West African region, threatening to devastate the health care systems of the affected countries, and profoundly affecting the fight against HIV and other diseases; and conflict situations in some African States which have the effect of fueling the epidemic through amongst others the use of rape and sexual violence as tools of war thereby increasing womens vulnerability to the epidemic, impeding access of PLHIV to HIV treatment, and generally devastating the health care facilities in affected countries.

The PLHIV Committee continues to note with concern the existence of socially-endorsed cultural, economic and social discriminatory practices, inequities and gender-based violence against women in a number of African countries, which perpetuates the vulnerability of women to the epidemic. Gender inequality and unequal power relations between women and men make women more vulnerable to HIV, facing high risk of infection, through forced sex.

The PLHIV Committee notes further that many countries still refuse to recognize the crime of marital rape, and that sexual violence survivors rarely gain access to post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV infection. Also, with continued stigma and discrimination, disparities in access to essential services and criminalization of key populations, it is noted that HIV services are not sufficiently reaching these populations and that they are largely missing out on recent progress in HIV response (WHO - Global Update on the Health Sector Response to HIV, 2014 - July 2014).

High rates of new infections have been recorded among these vulnerable and key populations on the continent. Despite that they are most at risk of HIV infection, they are least likely to have access to HIV prevention, testing and treatment services, and in many countries, they are left out of national HIV response plans and subjected to discriminatory and punitive laws and policies which are major barriers to access, thus pushing them further into hiding away from services to prevent, and mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS. 

Consequently, in order to reach the visionary targets of 90-90-90 State Parties to the African Charter and the Womens Protocol should adopt HIV responses and strategies that include safeguarding human rights and enhancing health equity for vulnerable persons and key populations.

The PLHIV Committee wishes to reiterate that human rights and fundamental freedoms for all is an essential element in the global response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It is important to note that universal access to comprehensive prevention programs, treatment, care and support will not be achieved without the necessary human rights safeguards that prohibit discrimination and ensure equal treatment for all, as well as guarantee protection against HIV-related human rights violations.

Failure by States to take affirmative measures to protect human rights will only serve to exacerbate the spread of HIV, and to this end, the PLHIV Committee yet again, seizes the opportunity of this occasion of World AIDS Day, to call upon States Parties to the African Charter and the Womens Protocol to place human rights at the centre of their HIV responses, and take concrete measures to respect their commitments under the African Charter, the Womens Protocol and other regional and international human rights instruments by putting in place legal frameworks that will effectively protect the rights of vulnerable persons and those at risk, as well as PLHIV; including by specifically addressing the problems of stigma anddiscrimination towards PLHIV, vulnerable groups and key populations, as well as that of gender inequality.

The PLHIV Committee would like to put a print on todays commemoration by saying that: through an inclusive and not exclusive, persistent and diligent pursuit of our common destiny, Ending the Epidemic by 2030 is indeed possible.



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