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World AIDS Day 2006: Ideology Trumps Action as Epidemic Worsens

Governments Must Respect Rights to Advance AIDS Fight

Twenty-five years after AIDS was first identified, programs to fight the disease continue to be undermined by conservative ideologies and moralistic approaches, Human Rights Watch said ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1.

“The most effective approaches for preventing HIV/AIDS are not being used,” said Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS program at Human Rights Watch. “Governments are refusing to adopt evidence-based programs that respect individual rights, and are instead promoting ideological campaigns that make people more vulnerable to infection.”

Human Rights Watch identified a number of examples from around the world affecting those most at risk of HIV infection, including youth, women, and injecting drug users.

  • In sub-Saharan Africa, a majority of young adults lack adequate knowledge of HIV transmission. Yet some governments emphasize “abstinence-only” approaches and promote inaccurate information about the effectiveness of condoms. For example, in Uganda the government promotes “virginity parades” and restricts the availability of condoms to youth while the epidemic – in a country once considered a “success story” – has worsened dramatically.
  • Women are increasingly recognized as the “face” of AIDS, but governments refuse to address the human rights abuses that cause their vulnerability. One in three women will face some form of gender-based violence in her lifetime, and studies have found that women who experience violence are up to three times more likely to become infected.
  • One in three new infections outside Africa affects injecting drug users. Few governments, though, are adopting such proven strategies as substitution therapy for drug addiction or the provision of clean needles. In Russia, where the epidemic is concentrated among injecting drug users, the government has refused to permit the use of methadone and has hindered the widespread availability of clean needles.

Six months ago, UN members signed a declaration recognizing that the protection and realization of human rights is essential in the global fight against AIDS. “The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day is ‘Keep the Promise,’” Amon said. “But unless governments adopt effective approaches that respect the rights of those most vulnerable to the disease, their broken promises will add up to millions more infected with HIV.”

At the International AIDS Conference in Toronto last August, Human Rights Watch collected audio testimony from AIDS activists and individuals living with HIV worldwide, who present personal stories and perspectives on what is needed in the global AIDS fight.

“Listen to their stories and you can begin to understand the impact of the AIDS epidemic and the failure of the world’s governments to address it,” Amon said.

To hear the testimonies of AIDS activists and those living with HIV which Human Rights Watch recorded at the 16th annual International AIDS Conference, please visit:
For information regarding the re-broadcasting of these audio interviews, contact

For broadcast-quality audio interviews of other leading AIDS activists around the world, as well as a 30-minute radio program produced by Human Rights Watch for the International AIDS Conference, please visit:

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