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10th International AIDS Society conference on HIV science

Video statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

21 July 2019

Greetings. 

First, I want to thank all of you for your work to halt the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Whether you work in a clinical environment or a lab, the research you’re engaged in seeks to establish ways to prevent and heal suffering. 

There are so many human rights issues involved in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. There’s stigma, discrimination, abuse, poverty, the criminalization of IV drug use, and – in more than 30 countries in the world, still today – the criminalization of LGBTI people. 

But there’s also the long struggle by human rights activists to undo the stigma against individuals at high risk of HIV/AIDS. 

I look back and see their decades of work and advocacy to build health systems, which today are far more accessible and respectful of communities, which have gained in power, though they may continue to be subjected to marginalization.

I see the progress we’ve made in ensuring that patients and activists participate in framing both policy and research, and increasing understanding that global inequality in access to anti-retroviral treatment is a fundamental question of social justice and human rights. 

I see increasing acceptance of the inalienable right to health, and adequate health-care, for every human being. 

These have been essential factors in building our societies’ resistance to HIV/AIDS epidemics. 

But we need to keep pushing forward - to embed human rights into health policies, and into clinical practice and research. 

As your efforts continue to bring the world closer to a vaccine, and to a clinical cure for AIDS, new questions with great impact on human rights will emerge. 

First, let me cite access for people and countries that are not wealthy. Pre Exposure Prophylaxis is effective, but is still not widely available, even in many high-income countries such as the UK and Switzerland. We need to fix this, and we need to work on making other new treatments as widely available as possible. 

Second, discrimination in law. Still today, more than half of new infections are occurring among men who sleep with men; sex-workers; prisoners; transgender people; and intravenous drug users. It is essential to ensure that these at-risk populations participate in shaping policies and programs; and that countries realize the calls – by UNAIDS, WHO and others – to reform laws on LGBTI relationships, sex work, and individual drug use.

We need better health-care systems for prisoners.

We must also pay attention to the need for paediatric formulations – not just for HIV treatment, but also for TB and other associated infections. These may be costly to develop, but it is not acceptable that so many children are still being left behind: In 2017, of the 1.8 M children estimated to be living with HIV around the world, only half were receiving treatment. 

Human rights activism has shaped your work in many ways. And the HIV/AIDS epidemic has had profound influence on the human rights community’s approach to the right to health. I very much hope that we will continue to strengthen that partnership so that as science advances, social justice and human rights keep pace.