April 20, 2024

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The Threat of Discrimination to Public Health and the Fight Against HIV

UNAIDS established Zero Discrimination Day ten years ago to advance equality and fairness for everyone regardless of gender, age, sexuality, ethnicity, or HIV status. However, progress is in peril.

Attacks on the rights of women and girls, LGBTQ+ people, and other marginalized communities are on the rise. When laws, policies, practices, or norms enshrine punishment, discrimination, or stigma for people because they are women, or are LGBTQ+, are migrants, sex workers, or use drugs, the results lead to failing public health as these communities are pushed away from vital health and social services.

“The attacks on rights are a threat to freedom and democracy and are harmful to health. Stigma and discrimination obstruct HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and care, and hold back progress towards ending AIDS by 2030,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “It is only by protecting everyone’s rights that we can protect everyone’s health.”

There has been progress. At the start of the AIDS pandemic 40 years ago, two-thirds of countries in the world criminalized LGBTQ+ people, today two-thirds of countries do not.

38 countries around the world have pledged to end HIV-related stigma and discrimination and today 50 million more girls are in school than in 2015.

To continue this progress UNAIDS urges support for women’s movements and movements for the rights of LGBTQ+ people, for racial justice, for economic justice, for climate justice, and peace. As communities across the world stand up for their rights, the United Nations is not only on their side but by their side.

On this Zero Discrimination Day (1 March), and across the whole month of March, events and activities will remind the world of this vital lesson and call to action: by protecting everyone’s health, we can protect everyone’s rights.

“Through upholding rights for all, we will be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and to secure a safer, fairer, kinder, and happier world – for everyone,” added Ms Byanyima.

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