Thursday, November 30, 2006

HRW: World AIDS Day 2006: Ideology Trumps Action as Epidemic Worsens

Governments Must Respect Rights to Advance AIDS Fight

(New York, November 29, 2006) – Twenty-five years after AIDS was first identified, programs to fight the disease continue to be undermined by conservative ideologies and moralistic approaches, Human Rights Watch said ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1.

“The most effective approaches for preventing HIV/AIDS are not being used,” said Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS program at Human Rights Watch. “Governments are refusing to adopt evidenced-based programs that respect individual rights, and are instead promoting ideological campaigns that make people more vulnerable to infection.” Human Rights Watch identified a number of examples from around the world affecting those most at risk of HIV infection, including youth, women, and injecting drug users.

  • In sub-Saharan Africa, a majority of young adults lack adequate knowledge of HIV transmission. Yet some governments emphasize “abstinence-only” approaches and promote inaccurate information about the effectiveness of condoms. For example, in Uganda the government promotes “virginity parades” and restricts the availability of condoms to youth while the epidemic – in a country once considered a “success story” – has worsened dramatically.
  • Women are increasingly recognized as the “face” of AIDS, but governments refuse to address the human rights abuses that cause their vulnerability. One in three women will face some form of gender-based violence in her lifetime, and studies have found that women who experience violence are up to three times more likely to become infected.
  • One in three new infections outside Africa affects injecting drug users. Few governments, though, are adopting such proven strategies as substitution therapy for drug addiction or the provision of clean needles. In Russia, where the epidemic is concentrated among injecting drug users, the government has refused to permit the use of methadone and has hindered the widespread availability of clean needles.
Six months ago, UN members signed a declaration recognizing that the protection and realization of human rights is essential in the global fight against AIDS. “The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day is ‘Keep the Promise,’” Amon said. “But unless governments adopt effective approaches that respect the rights of those most vulnerable to the disease, their broken promises will add up to millions more infected with HIV.”

At the International AIDS Conference in Toronto last August, Human Rights Watch collected audio testimony from AIDS activists and individuals living with HIV worldwide, who present personal stories and perspectives on what is needed in the global AIDS fight. “Listen to their stories and you can begin to understand the impact of the AIDS epidemic and the failure of the world’s governments to address it,” Amon said. To hear the testimonies of AIDS activists and those living with HIV which Human Rights Watch recorded at the 16th annual International AIDS Conference, please visit:

For broadcast-quality audio interviews of other leading AIDS activists around the world, as well as a 30-minute radio program produced by Human Rights Watch for the International AIDS Conference, please visit:

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Chinese Release Detained AIDS Activist

On November 24th, Dr. Wan Yanhai, an advocate for AIDS patients in China and founder of the AIZHIXING Institute, was taken in for questioning by the Beijing police and detained for 48 hours. His detention forced the cancellation of a planned workshop, “Blood, Safety, AIDS, and Legal Human Rights”, which planned to focus on the rights of people infected with HIV/AIDS through blood transfusions. After Dr. Wan cancelled the workshop, he was released.

Dr. Wan has been detained before. In 2002, he was in police custody for four weeks after posting information on the internet about unsafe blood exchanges that were contributing to the rising incidence of AIDS in the province of Henan. He was charged with “illegally leaking state secrets.” Upon his release, Dr. Yanhai declared, “If this incident helps attract more concern and support for victims of AIDS and their families and children here in China, then it can be considered an opportunity we should grasp.''

The detention of Dr. Wan by the Chinese authorities on the eve of World AIDS Day emphasizes the restrictions on the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS in China. A press release by the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CRD) states that the Beijing police have been working to block villagers living with HIV/AIDS from entering the city—whether to visit or to express grievances to the government—in part as preparation for the 2008 Olympics.

UNAIDS reported in its 2006 annual report that the epidemic in China has reached more than 650,000 individuals. In contrast to most regions, the epidemic began in rural areas and spread to the cities, perhaps explaining why awareness has remained low and stigma has soared. Nearly half of the people living with HIV in China are believed to be infected from injecting-drug use. In some provinces such as Henan, one percent of pregnant women are found to be HIV-positive. UNAIDS also cites blood and plasma donations as a contributing factor to the epidemic, the issue that Dr. Wan has focused on. HIV-positive persons find little protection or help—the UNAIDS report estimates that “almost one in three (30%) health professionals in Yunnan Province…said they would not treat an HIV-positive person.”

Dr. Wan’s work continues to drawn attention to not only the discrimination facing people living with HIV/AIDS in China, but also the denial of the civil and political rights of those fighting on their behalf. Learn more about his work:

Human Rights Watch talks with Dr. Wan (7/2006)

Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders press release (11/27/06)

“China Frees AIDS Activist After Month of Outcry” (9/21/02)

“China Now Set To Make Copies of AIDS Drugs” (9/7/02)

“China's Top AIDS Activist Missing; Arrest Is Suspected” (8/29/02)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Update on the AIDS Epidemic

UNAIDS and the WHO released the yearly report on HIV and AIDS. The 94-page report, "AIDS Epidemic Update: December 2006", estimates that 4.3 million new HIV infections occurred worldwide this year and that about 2.9 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses.

Annotated Life: Why Blog?

Blogging, social networking and activism

Friday, November 17, 2006

Site to check out

An anonymous AIDS Combat Zone reader leads us to AIDS: Remember me?, a site put up by the European Commission to encourage dialogue about HIV/AIDS. It's being done in conjunction with an event in Brussels, Belgium on the eve of World AIDS Day to screen new HIV commercials and select a favorite. Other areas of the site to check out include a contest encouraging you to write your own HIV/AIDS 60 second TV spot (European Union nationals only) and a vlog (video blog) you can participate in. This is the citizen-driven web at its finest!

Monday, November 13, 2006

New York Times: Needles, AIDS, China

To the Editor:

In "China's Muslims Awake to Nexus of Needles and AIDS", Howard French shows one bright spot in China's war against the AIDS epidemic: in Xinjiang, authorities are beginning to offer methadone to drug users.

However, the article does not show an uglier piece of the picture. Every year, authorities around the country also forcibly detain thousands of drug users in prisons, "treatment centers" in name only. As a researcher at Human Rights Watch, I visited one such facility and interviewed detainees from others. Under Chinese law, police may sentence individuals to three to six months --sometimes, longer-- in these prisons, without trial. Detainees are kept in unclean, overcrowded cells. They get no counseling. They are compelled to take part in forced, unpaid labor, working long hours on farms or in sweatshops that profit the prisons. Chinese sex workers also face similar detention.

As interviewees told me, all this punitive approach accomplishes is to marginalize those at high risk of HIV infection and drive them underground, away from authorities and any program that could teach them about HIV and how to prevent its spread. China should abolish these fake "treatment centers" and replace them with real ones.

Sara Davis
Executive Director
Asia Catalyst

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Online course regarding rights

Online Course – Introduction to Human Rights

Fahamu has a vision of the world where people organise to emancipate themselves from all forms of oppression, recognise their social responsibilities, respect each other’s differences, and realise their full potential. Fahamu supports human rights and social justice in Africa by:

• Supporting social justice advocacy through innovative use of information and communications technologies • Stimulating debate, discussion and analysis • Distributing news and information • Developing training materials and running distance-learning courses.

Fahamu focuses primarily on Africa, although we work with others to support the global movement for human rights and social justice.

Fahamu has developed a wide range of courses for human rights and social justice organisations, including courses on investigating and reporting on human rights violations, conflict prevention, prevention of torture, fundraising, financial management and others. Fahamu has extensive experience in developing and running distance-learning and workshop based courses internationally.

Fahamu is the first NGO partner in the OpenCourseWare Consortium. The first course being made available is Introduction to Human rights which was written by Richard Carver.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

WHO Names New Director-General

Dr. Margaret Chan was nominated for the position of WHO Director-General. The World Health Assembly will meet on Thursday, November 9th to review the nomination. More on the WHO website. The news release is pasted below:

Dr Margaret Chan nominated to be WHO Director-General

8 NOVEMBER 2006 GENEVA -- Dr Margaret Chan of China was nominated today by the Executive Board of the World Health Organization for the post of Director-General. The Director-General is WHO's chief technical and administrative officer.

The nomination will be submitted to the World Health Assembly, which will meet for a one-day special session on Thursday, 9 November to appoint the next Director-General.

The procedures for the current nomination and election process were decided following the sudden death of Dr LEE Jong-wook, WHO Director-General, on 22 May 2006. At its meeting on 23 May, the WHO Executive Board agreed on an "accelerated process" for electing a Director-General.

On Monday the Executive Board, chaired by Dr Fernando Antezana Araníbar of Bolivia, selected a short list of five candidates. Yesterday the Board interviewed the five candidates and today selected Dr Margaret Chan as its nominee.

Dr Chan is a well-known public figure because of her record of leadership in fighting disease first in Hong Kong, and more recently at WHO. During her nine-year tenure as Director of Health, Dr Chan confronted the first human outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza in 1997 and successfully defeated Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Hong Kong in 2003. She also introduced primary health care 'from the diaper to the grave' with a focus on health promotion and disease prevention, self-care and healthy lifestyles. In 2003, she joined WHO and rose to the position of Representative of the Director-General for Pandemic Influenza as well as Assistant Director-General for Communicable Diseases. Now 59, Dr Chan obtained her Medical Degree from the University of Western Ontario in Canada and a public health degree from the National University of Singapore.

The WHO Executive Board is composed of 34 Members who are technically qualified in the field of health. The main functions of the Board are to give effect to the decisions and policies of the World Health Assembly, to advise it and generally to facilitate its work.

The countries represented on the current Executive Board are: Afghanistan, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bhutan, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Denmark, Djibouti, El Salvador, Iraq, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Lesotho, Liberia, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Mexico, Namibia, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Singapore, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Tonga, Thailand, Turkey and the United States of America.

Dr Anders Nordström, appointed by the Executive Board as Acting Director-General of WHO in May, will continue in this role until a new Director-General takes office.

For more information contact:
Christine McNabActing-Director, WHO Communications Department
Telephone: +41 22 791 4688Mobile phone: +41 79 254 6815E-mail:

Iain SimpsonTeam leader, News and AdvocacyWHO, Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 3215Mobile phone: +41 79 254 3215E-mail:

Fadéla ChaibCommunications OfficerWHO, Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 3228Mobile phone: +41 79 475 5556E-mail:

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Candidates for WHO Director-General Respond to Questionaire

PEPFAR Watch has posted the answers to the questionaire put forward by civil society partners to the candidates for Director-General of the WHO. Read what several candidates said about critical issues such as HIV/AIDS, TB, and sexual and reproductive health.

Yesterday, the Executive Board of the WHO announced in a news release that the short-listed candidates are: Ms. Elena Salgado Méndez, Dr. Kazem Behbehani, Dr. Margaret Chan, Dr. Julio Frenk, and Dr. Shigeru Omi.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Abstinence Forever

USA today reports that the federal government is targeting unmarried adults up to age 29 as part of its abstinence-only programs because unmarried women in the 20-29 year age group are having children.

But really, why stop at 29? I bet there are 30 year old women, even perhaps 35 and 40 year old unmarried women having sex, and having babies too.

I don't know if it was taken out of context, but Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services, was quoted in the article as saying: "The message is 'It's better to wait until you're married to bear or father children,' " Horn said. "The only 100% effective way of getting there is abstinence."

The only 100% effective way of getting "there" - meaning to be married with children? - is abstinence??? Has HHS decided to totally abandon evidence, and pursue its ideological goals untethered to data? The article goes on to say:

The revised guidelines specify that states seeking grants are "to identify groups ... most likely to bear children out-of-wedlock, targeting adolescents and/or adults within the 12- through 29-year-old age range." Previous guidelines didn't mention targeting of an age group.

"We wanted to remind states they could use these funds not only to target adolescents," Horn said. "It's a reminder."

Last year, 46 states applied for the federal abstinence-education money, to fund programs in schools, neighborhood clubs and faith-based organizations.

Hmmm, so if HHS is telling states they can target 29 year olds with abstinence messages, how will they do that: schools? probably not. Neighborhood clubs? doubtful. Faith-based organizations? Bingo.