Towards World AIDS Day

Angana Narula

“Spread through bodily fluids, HIV is a virus which compromises the body’s immune systems. AIDS is a severe stage of HIV, signaling a severely damaged immune system.”

Definitions repeated in workshops, conferences, and classrooms all over the world. If you were privileged enough to have attended a relatively standard schooling system, you have most likely learnt all about the ways in which HIV/AIDS can be transmitted, what to do if you are HIV-positive, and how you can protect yourself. You may be wondering, I’ve heard this all before, why is Amnesty International so invested in the AIDS epidemic?

The truth is, not everyone has been so lucky. Fundamental human rights issues, largely affecting people in developing nations, only serve to exacerbate this epidemic. Poverty, gender inequality, and lack of basic sexual health education, cannot be disentangled from discussions about HIV/AIDS, nor can they be dismissed as direct links to why the disease is so prevalent in certain countries. Social inequalities contribute to the inability to participate in preventative methods or drug therapy.

Highest rates of HIV/AIDS are found in populations living in developing regions such as Sub-saharan Africa, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia among many others. People living within these regions inhabit environments that increase the risk of infection, are not able to access a sexual health education, and face obstacles when attempting to access basic healthcare and medication. Vulnerable populations, it seems, are caught in a catch-22: poverty increases the risk of HIV, but spending monumental sums of money on healthcare and medication also increases risks of falling into the poverty scale.

Lack of basic sex education is also the leading cause of HIV/AIDS worldwide; many youth have little understanding of available contraceptive methods, let alone how to access them. Additionally, homosexual sex is still criminalized in over 70 countries. In societies where homosexuality is deemed illegal, men are often reluctant, or afraid, to use contraceptives and lubricant, and are overall less likely to reach out for drug therapy because of the fear of prosecution from local authorities.

When it comes to antiretroviral therapy, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights states that “facilities, goods, services, and conditions necessary for the realization of the highest attainable standard of health” all encompass the human right to wellbeing. Though universal in discourse, it is not a universally shared reality.

In 2015, only 46% of all HIV positive people were on antiretroviral treatment; the people who need medication the most are ironically the highest amount being denied these resources, or don’t have the means to fund such lengthy treatments. What is more, it is becoming increasingly common that those on long-term medication eventually experience resistance to it. Needing stronger drug combinations that are far from affordable, this puts people at further risk of poverty and infection. Even with the emergence of antiretroviral therapy and similar such treatments,  on a global scale new infections among adults still have not decreased to a sufficient level.

Perhaps it is time for our global community to consider that medicating people may no longer be the answer. At least, it should not be the only answer. As we enter the new millenium, implementing preventative educational strategies may be our best shot at ending the AIDS epidemic once and for all.

Which brings us to LSE Youth Stop Aids. This week, LSESU Amnesty International Society, in collaboration with Youth Stop Aids, aims to illuminate current obstacles when it comes to accessing sexual health education and healthcare. By campaigning, lobbying MP’s, fundraising, as well as focusing on the missing medicines and the essentiality of basic sexual health education, Youth Stop Aids have the goal of ending AIDS by 2030.

It seems we do not view at-risk populations as urgent cases, or worthy of immediate aid because of the HIV’s passive, undetectable nature. But perhaps it is also because of the difficulties most of us have in conceptualising the scale in which HIV/AIDS operates. Let us present you with a few facts: there were almost 35 million people recorded to have HIV/AIDS in 2017.

Almost 2 million of these people were children.

LSESU Amnesty International Society invites you to learn, participate, and begin to make small preventative and protective changes for vulnerable people in our local communities. This week, we want to show the LSE community that it is still vital to pay attention.

To learn more about Youth Stop Aids and how you can get involved, click here.

To see the activities held by LSESU Amnesty International Society in the lead up to World Aids Day 2018, click here.

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