HIV, disability and discrimination: making the links in international and domestic human rights law

They have often found themselves in the position of seeking to challenge discrimination based on incorrect assumptions that HIV infection per se renders a person unable to, for example, hold certain positions. Similarly, the intense stigma surrounding HIV, in part because of its association with sex (and in particular, disfavoured sexual minorities) and with drug-using behaviour, no doubt has created some hesitancy on the part of disability rights activists taking on HIV/AIDS as an issue of concern. 
In addition, it is not a stretch to recognize that social justice advocates and movements, always struggling to secure resources to address the needs of their constituencies, will understandably be concerned that the possible conflation of HIV and disability could lead to a reduction in hard-won resources for either or both of these sectors.

Similarly, in some quarters of the disability rights movement, concern has been raised that recognition of HIV as a disability could lead, under pressure from a relatively well-organized AIDS advocacy constituency, to resources being diverted away from services or advocacy for people with (other) disabilities. 

However, recently there are more and more calls for greater unity between the disability rights movement and AIDS activists [15-20]. Both the disability and HIV movements could gain from increased diversity and perspective.

People with disabilities are at an increased risk of contracting HIV; alliances with PLHIV and AIDS organizations can strengthen HIV education and prevention efforts to protect people with disabilities. Moreover, there are many advantages for inclusion of PLHIV as part of the disability rights movement. Where it is not already the case in domestic law, recognition of HIV and AIDS as disabilities for legal purposes may entitle PLHIV to health, employment or other benefits, as well as to the benefits of legislation protecting against discrimination, including the requirement of reasonable accommodation of disability (discussed below). Seeing commonalities in the stigma and discrimination experienced by both PLHIV and people with disabilities will increase tolerance and better understanding across these (overlapping) communities, and will strengthen both communities’ efforts in overcoming stigma and discrimination. 

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10. Jurgens R: “Nothing About Us Without Us”: Greater meaningful involvement of people who use drugs (International edition). Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, International HIV/AIDS Alliance & Open Society Institute, 2008.
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12. Too Few to Worry About? Or Too Many to Ignore?: The Exclusion of People with Disabilities from HIV Programmes in India. PMO-DFID, 2007.
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Richard Elliott, Leah Utyasheva and Elisse Zack

Journal of the International AIDS Society 2009, 2:4doi:10.1186/1758-2652-2-4
Published: 9 November 2009

Full articleHIV, disability and discrimination: making the links in international and domestic human rights law

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