An eminent spokesperson on the global AIDS response and former Member of Parliament in the UK has spoken of the challenges that continue to fuel the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Ahead of the publication of a new book this week, Lord Norman Fowler highlights the role that ignorance and prejudice play in holding back a comprehensive response to HIV and AIDS in many parts of the world.
HIV continues to present a major global public health issue, with an estimated 1.5 million people dying from AIDS and 2.3 million new HIV infections each year. All the more worrying are the numbers of people who are unaware of their status, who account for around half of the 35 million people currently living with HIV globally. Yet, we know that the later people access antiretroviral treatment, the less effective the drugs are.
Lord Fowler cites discrimination and prejudice as one of the major barriers to people accessing HIV testing. The number of countries criminalising homosexuality, for example, has increased in recent years, exacerbating the HIV epidemic among this already vulnerable group. In settings where repressive laws exist, men who have sex with men (MSM) are reluctant to access HIV services for fear of violence and discrimination.
Other key population groups, such as sex workers and people who inject drugs, also continue to face legal and structural barriers that limit their ability to pursue health-seeking behaviour. In many countries, the burden of the HIV epidemic continues to be carried by sex workers and drug users, yet they face ongoing discrimination that restricts their access to services.
Lord Fowler’s book, AIDS: Don’t die of Prejudice, outlines the steps that we must take to turn the tide on ignorance and prejudice to stop the HIV and AIDS epidemic in its tracks.