Prejudice against people living with HIV/AIDS makes them afraid to speak out and allows the disease to make its deadly impact around the globe, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.
“Stigma remains the single most important barrier to public action. It is the main reason too many people are afraid to see a doctor to determine whether they have the disease, or to seek treatment,” Mr. Ban writes in an op-ed article in The Washington Times.
“It helps make AIDS the silent killer, because people fear the social disgrace of speaking about it, or taking easily available precautions. Stigma is a chief reason the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world.”
Mr. Ban addressed a major international conference on AIDS in Mexico earlier this week, which brought together more than 20,000 activists, academics and policymakers.
In today’s article he says he called on world leaders “to speak out against discrimination and to guarantee the rights of people living with HIV.”
“Schools should teach respect and understanding. Religious leaders should preach tolerance. The media should condemn prejudice and use its influence to advance social change, from securing legal protections to ensuring access to health care,” he stressed.
The Secretary-General notes that, for the first time, fewer people are being infected by HIV and fewer are dying, thanks to changes in sexual behaviour – particularly among young people – and better access to anti-retroviral drugs.
He says these gains would not have been possible without strong support from the international community, and cites a renewed pledge by the G-8 group of countries to work toward the goal of universal access to HIV treatment by 2010, as well as a $48 billion commitment by United States President George Bush toward the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria over the next five years.