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Linkage of human rights and AIDS focus of high-level roundtable at UN session

Linkage of human rights and AIDS focus of high-level roundtable at UN session

Lack of respect for human rights is driving the AIDS epidemic and must be addressed in as part of the comprehensive campaign against the disease, according to the chairman of a roundtable discussion held as part of the General Assembly's special session on the pandemic.

"The extent to which human rights are neglected or promoted is a major factor in how widely HIV spreads and the speed with which infection progresses to AIDS and kills," Poland's Health Minister, Grzegorz Opala, told reporters following the roundtable discussion, which brought together representatives of governments, civil society groups, UN agencies and intergovernmental organizations.

Mr. Opala emphasized that respect for human rights was vital to preventing the epidemic's spread. "When human rights are respected, people are better able to protect themselves from being infected with the HIV virus," he said.

The Polish Health Minister also underscored the need to break the silence surrounding the issue. "We all agreed that we must talk openly and bluntly about the factors that allow HIV/AIDS to thrive," he said. An important aspect of this endeavour was "breaking down discrimination in terms of minority rights, gender, sexual behaviour, inequality, inequity and justice."

Gender inequality was fuelling the rapid spread of HIV because women did not have control over their bodies. "Many women and girls are not in a position to say 'no' to unwanted sex, nor can they negotiate condom use," he observed.

Commenting on the draft declaration of commitment, expected to be adopted by the General Assembly at the close of the special session, he said it marked the first time that the international community had spelled out a specific timetable for action against HIV/AIDS. Measures to follow-up on the declaration should involve people living with AIDS, children, women and other vulnerable groups.

The session's programme includes two other roundtable discussions, focusing on the socio-economic impact of HIV/ADS, and international funding and cooperation.