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JIS News

Persons living with HIV/AIDS in Jamaica are having most of their human rights violated in one way or the other, said Dr. Yitades Gebre, senior medical officer and executive director of the Jamaica HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Project in the Ministry of Health.The senior medical officer said the Ministry has been receiving “numerous reports” of discrimination against HIV/AIDS victims, with the latest being that of two children, who were denied access to a private school. This incident, Dr. Gebre has said, was a “gross violation of the rights of the child”.
“There have also been individuals, who have been fired from their jobs, chased out from their homes and communities. Sometimes, individuals have been denied treatment and access to care because of their HIV status. Therefore, all this constitutes the importance of human rights, equal protection and equality before the law,” Dr. Gebre pointed out to JIS News.
Education, housing, healthcare and employment are some of the areas where persons living with HIV/AIDS have had their rights violated and according to Dr. Gebre, the blatant lack of respect for human rights actually increases vulnerability to HIV infection in the society. But what measures can be taken when this level of discrimination happens?
Dr. Gebre said that when individuals face this sort of prejudice, they must seek legal redress and has advised the parents of the two children denied access to school, to take this avenue.
“The procedure is clear; when this kind of violation takes place (they must) bring it to the authorities. My understanding is that in this case, it would be the Public Defender, who will be taking on this kind of discrimination,” he informed JIS News.
He said that in other instances, other methods of remedy might be necessary, based on where the violation took place. “If it is in the workplace, there is the Ministry of Labour and (Social Security) and if it is in the area of health, there is the Ministry of Health. In each of the sectors, there are mechanisms to report violations and appropriate authorities will deal with these issues,” he stated.
Dr. Gebre pointed out, that while there was no legislation or regulation that spoke directly to discrimination based on HIV status, the existing laws and human rights protection, provided by the Constitution, might deal with some of these issues.
He noted however, that there was need to articulate through legislation, the discrimination of people with HIV/AIDS, to reduce vulnerability overall.”From our side, the Ministry of Health’s National AIDS Programme and the National AIDS Committee, have revised the existing laws and regulations where necessary, for the government to look into or enact new legislation,” he informed.
He told JIS News, that this information has been provided to the Attorney General and the Ministry was now awaiting directives from that office as to whether new legislation would be introduced or existing laws would be strengthened.
Any legislation dealing with the discrimination of persons with HIV/AIDS, Dr. Gebre said, should as priority, protect the rights of the child, in terms of ensuring their continued attendance at school; ensure the privacy and confidentiality of HIV testing and address liberty of movement and areas of employment. He said that the law should protect individuals from being tested for HIV before employment.
Equal access to education and healthcare, providing treatment and education to individuals, who are vulnerable to HIV, are other areas that the legal system should look into, he pointed out.
Dr. Gebre is slated to address a human rights seminar at the Northern Caribbean University (NCU) in Mandeville later this month, where he will speak on these and other issues. He said that through the discussions, the hope was to highlight the link between fundamental human rights and the person living with HIV/AIDS, including the right to non-discrimination at all points.
“There are so many issues under the declaration of human rights, therefore we will be trying to address all these issues,” he informed.
The symposium, organized by the Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the NCU, will be the first in a series dealing with human rights and HIV/AIDS in Jamaica.
Meanwhile, Dr. Gebre noted that the HIV/AIDS patient is not the only one facing discriminating in Jamaica as persons providing care to those suffering from the disease also face unfair treatment. “They often have been discriminated or stigmatized with the disease for the mere fact that they are giving care to persons living with HIV and AIDS”, he said.
He said lack of knowledge was the main reason why caregivers were discriminated against or stigmatized.The Ministry, through its ‘Live Positive’ campaign, has sought various means of sensitizing and educating the public on all the issues relating to HIV/AIDS. In addition, Dr. Gebre noted that he was anticipating the passage through Parliament of the National AIDS Policy sometime this year, which would form the basis for expanding programmes in human rights as it relates to the disease.