Windhoek - The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is demanding the removal of punitive laws, policies, practices, stigma and discrimination that block effective responses to AIDS.
The UN anti-HIV/AIDS agency believes that punitive laws, policies, practices, stigma and human rights violations are the major barriers to universal access targets and the Sustainable Development Goals on HIV/AIDS.
Under Sustainable Development Goal 3, the global community has agreed to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, and under the UNAIDS “90-90-90” targets, countries work towards achieving, by 2020, “90% of people living with HIV knowing their HIV status; 90% of people who know their HIV-positive status on treatment; and 90% of people on treatment with suppressed viral loads”.
In a recent statement, UNAIDS indicated that although major global efforts have been mounted to address the epidemic, HIV remains the world’s most serious health and development challenge.
Approximately 36.9 million people are currently living with HIV, and tens of millions of people have died of AIDS-related causes since the beginning of the epidemic.
Many people living with HIV or at risk for HIV infection do not have access to prevention, treatment, and care, and there is still no cure, according to the statement. The setbacks are attributed to the discriminatory legal frameworks that are still in existence in some countries.
In many countries, laws result in people being treated differently, excluded from essential services or being subjected to undue restrictions on how they should live their lives, simply because of who they are.
For instance, in Namibia, there are still areas where HIV tests are used as a basis for hiring and for studying abroad on government scholarships.
The Namibian Defence Act prohibits the employment of persons with HIV/AIDS. The same applies to the Namibian Police Force and other sectors such as Mining and education.
The Namibian Defence Force (NDF) has an HIV/AIDS mandatory policy when recruiting new cadets and when members are assigned to international missions, as it is a United Nations standard.
All people applying for jobs in the defence force and the police or in the mining sector have to attach medical certificates that include their HIV status.
The NDF has in the past tried to play down the discriminatory policy, with former deputy minister Lempy Lucas previously quoted saying the military does not recruit HIV-positive individuals into the force due to the strenuous nature of the job.
Lucas said the training of the NDF members is so rigorous that it may aggravate the health conditions of members affected by HIV/AIDS.
Apart from that, there are also some financial and insurance institutions currently discriminating against HIV-positive people.
“Such laws are discriminatory - they deny human rights and fundamental freedoms,” UNAIDS said.
There are also practices in treatment in Namibia that have been criticised for fuelling stigma and discrimination.
For instance, news about the status of people living with HIV in small towns in Namibia travels fast. Therefore, when they go for treatment at the local hospital, they feel like they were a public spectacle.
At the hospital, the room dedicated to treating people living with HIV/AIDS was in a very open public setting.
According to information published by the Legal Assistance Centre, People with HIV were afraid to go and get their medication because everyone could see who is HIV-positive at the hospital.
UNAIDS stressed that stigma and discrimination are the main reasons people resist getting tested, which leads to late diagnoses and a greater chance for HIV to progress to AIDS.
Furthermore, people who have experienced stigma are four times more likely to report poor access to care. Stigma affects the emotional well-being of those with HIV, as it leads to loss of hope and feeling of worthlessness.
UNAIDS pointed out laws that prevent people from accessing benefits or services and prohibit girls to go to school if they are pregnant or women from accessing financial services without their husband’s permission as some of the discriminatory legal frameworks that need to be amended.
The UN agency also highlighted the urgent need to take action against discriminatory laws.