Change in law necessary to address HIV discrimination

Published: November 6, 2012

It is true that we have come a long way since 1981 in addressing HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Because so little was known about the disease then, doctors and the public concluded that HIV was a gay-related disease, even calling it “gay-related immune deficiency” or GRID. More and more cases were discovered with time. By 1983, the vulnerable populations at-risk of HIV were referred to as the “4-H Club”, comprised of homosexuals, hemophiliacs, heroin addicts, and Haitians.

We now know that HIV is a virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) and is passed from person to person through sexual fluids, blood, and breast milk. Scientists and public health officials have learned that much can be done to reduce the impact of AIDS including condom use, sterilized needle use, and safer sexual behaviors. Policy-makers, non-governmental organizations, and others have initiated and maintained several programs such as needle exchange initiatives, awareness campaigns, and anonymous testing facilities. But is this enough?

While such programs have been relatively successful, the role of the law in regards to HIV and AIDS is critical in defining and shaping our approach to the disease. Given that the law is a direct reflection of a nation’s standards, values, and outlook, it plays a powerful role in either positively or negatively influencing both the HIV prevalence rate and also the level of discrimination in a nation.

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