Human Rights at the Center of the HIV Response in Thailand
February 14, 2011
Human rights abuses continue to affect many people living with HIV and key populations at risk of acquiring HIV. Refusal of medical care, loss of employment, denial of schooling for children, families harassed out of their homes, and even extreme violence perpetrated against people because of their HIV status or because they are men who have sex with men, sex workers, or drug users are a reality for many in Asia.
Despite many advances and successes in HIV prevention, care, and treatment, stigma and discrimination remain a key challenge. Without the guarantees that human rights provide, HIV legal and policy frameworks cannot address HIV-related stigma and discrimination, and people remain unable to access vital services. RTI International's Asia HIV Program is committed to promoting the rights of people living with and affected by HIV through policy and advocacy, law and human rights, strategic information, and community strengthening.
To bring these issues to the forefront of the HIV policy dialogue in Thailand and the broader Asia region, RTI convened an HIV and Human Rights Week in Bangkok in late January. The key message of the week's events, which included a flagship seminar, was that protecting human rights improves health outcomes.
To kick off the week, a two-day workshop developed recommendations on incorporating a rights-based approach into Thailand's new national HIV strategic plan for 2012–2016, which will replace the current National Plan for Strategic and Integrated HIV and AIDS Prevention and Alleviation 2007–2011.
Over forty workshop participants drafted a series of recommendations that address the critical issues of removing policy barriers which impede access to HIV prevention and treatment services and improving the protection of rights for key populations and people living with HIV. The recommendations will be submitted to the drafting committee of the new national HIV strategy.
Wassana Nimworapun of the Thai Ministry of Public Health's National AIDS Management Center, a co-host of the workshop, stressed the critical intersection between human rights and HIV, saying, "If people who work in HIV and with the key populations understand the concept of human rights, then HIV prevention work will be more successful."
The week's keynote speaker Sofia Gruskin, director of the Program on International Health and Human Rights at Harvard's School of Public Health, focused her address on effectively integrating human rights into HIV programming. She emphasized that national universal access targets should be informed by human rights and gender perspectives instead of total numbers, saying that this approach "emphasizes not only numbers but also who is gaining access (and who is not), how they are gaining access, and over what period of time."
Officials from the Ministry of Public Health responded positively to the workshop and are looking to RTI's Asia HIV Program for support to incorporate a human rights framework within its next national HIV strategy. David Stephens, senior technical advisor with RTI's Asia HIV Program, said, "This is an exciting example of how good policy has a chance to shape good public health at a very high level."
In addition to the workshops, a flagship seminar, which RTI hosted on legal and policy support for a rights-based approach to HIV, provided the opportunity for a moderated discussion between Gruskin and regional networks of people living with HIV and key affected populations, United Nations agencies, and international nongovernmental organizations. Other events during the HIV and Human Rights Week included meetings and briefings with donor representatives, and Gruskin worked with local and regional partners on a one-to-one and small group basis throughout the week.
The final event of the week was a meeting with the aim of developing a common platform on human rights among regional HIV organizations and networks. As a first step to identifying synergies and a more coordinated approach to regional level advocacy, the meeting provided an opportunity for all networks to share key issues and strategies.