Senior UN officials urge strong measures to combat AIDS-related discrimination

Senior UN officials urge strong measures to combat AIDS-related discrimination

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Marking World AIDS Day, senior United Nations officials have pledged to work in their respective areas of expertise to fight discrimination against those living with HIV.

Marking World AIDS Day, senior United Nations officials have pledged to work in their respective areas of expertise to fight discrimination against those living with HIV.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it would strengthen the prevention and treatment of the virus among refugee populations while calling for an end to the stigmatization of HIV/AIDS-infected refugees.

“We must combat any false notion that 'wherever they are, refugees bring AIDS with them to local communities' because this is simply not true,” said Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Kamel Morjane. “Such characterization can result in discrimination - something we can never accept.”

He added that the epidemic could drastically impact UNHCR's work in the next decade. “If the disease keeps on spreading, particularly in certain parts of the world, there will be many more single-headed refugee families and orphans requiring care.”

According to UNHCR, refugees are particularly at risk of HIV infection as wars and conflicts often force them to flee to areas where the virus is prevalent. They are also exposed to factors which can facilitate transmission of the virus ? poverty, the disruption of social structures and health services, and increases in sexual violence.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira De Mello, and Paul Hunt, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, marked the Day with a joint message pointing out that fear of being vilified could stop people from coming forward to learn their HIV-status and from receiving care, treatment and support.

“Too often, these fears are grounded in the reality of the discrimination that people living with HIV/AIDS face: they are refused employment, deprived of health care services, stripped of education opportunities,” the officials said, stressing the need to stop the cycle of fear and denial.

They also urged political leaders to speak out against stigma and combat discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.