Durban will host the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016) between July 18th and 22th 2016. South Africa has unfortunately been a notorious violator of human rights in the course of the 20th century. The nation is slowly recovering from apartheid, and other troubling issues are now arising. One of which is AIDS: South Africa has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world, and the epidemic may thus be the highest health concern in the country, with more than 15% of the population infected by the virus. It is of utmost importance to try to find solution to the spreading of HIV/AIDS, as it is a worldwide concern deeply linked with human rights. Empirical human rights data and other tools show the seriousness of the situation. The virus expanded extremely fast in the country, and it is worth noting that violations of human rights accelerated the expansion of the disease. Human rights policies can be launched in order to react to the spreading of the virus.
The current situation of South Africa
Before entering into the heart of the subject, one must understand the gravity of the situation in South Africa when it comes to AIDS. HIV/AIDS may be, with the struggle against racism, the most important human rights issue in South Africa. A rich country does not necessarily provide more respect, protection and fulfillment of human rights. South Africa illustrates well the fact that social cohesion and wealth are not absolute expressions. Although it is considered as a rich country in Africa, it has the second uppermost rate of adult prevalence with 35.8% adults infected with HIV, and the greatest level of infected individuals of all the wealthiest states in Africa. Indeed, South Africa is the third richest country in the continent, the fourth richest country in Africa being very far behind South Africa’s annual per capita income (US$3,160). What is frightening when it comes to the infection rates in the South African provinces is that, with the exception of a limited number of provinces that already experience high levels of infection, the rates kept going up between 1990 and 2004. For instance, in the province of E. Cape, the prevalence rate in women attending clinics was 4.5% in 1994 and increased to 28.0% in 2004. (Barnett and Whiteside 2006).
HIV/AIDS constitutes 31% of the overall disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) of the South Africans, injuries and violence accounting for an additional source of early deaths and infirmity. The health results of South Africa are way inferior to those in numerous lower income states. And sadly, South Africa is part of the twelve countries where child mortality intensified, instead of lessening, since the criterion of the Millennium Development Goals in 1990; a great proportion of the deaths of the children being largely due to AIDS/HIV (Coovadia, Jewkes, Barron, Sanders, and McIntyre 2009). One must also point out that AIDS/HIV is concentrated into its townships. This is another consequence of the violation of human rights of the black people during the apartheid. The official end of the segregation in South Africa triggered excessive poverty and a lot of racial inequalities in health care, which caused a high infection rate for black South Africans. Until 1998, South Africa was the country were AIDS/HIV was expanding the fastest in the world, but it is a two-speed logic as 13.8% of black South African are infected with HIV, while only 0.3% of the whites are HIV-positive (South Africa HIV and AIDS Statistics). Consequently, one must understand the violations of human rights that caused such an alarming situation in South Africa, that is, which human rights were violated and why their violation triggered the rapid spreading of the virus across the country (Kalichman and Simbayi 2004).
The violation of human rights as a cause of HIV/AIDS expansion
First, one must understand the actual and current relationship between AIDS and human rights. At the beginning of the spreading of the virus, the connection between the latter and human rights was solely understood in terms of discrimination, as HIV/AIDS patients were becoming subjects to discrimination. In a country like South Africa were discrimination was, in the late 1970s, a burdensome social reality, the intolerance for the infected increased throughout the years. These people had to be tested, but were also subject to limitations on international travel, employments and housing. Similarly, there were obstacles to health care and access to education. These issues related to human rights exist since the early 1980s and still affect patients in South Africa, as a great proportion of the old issues come back in different forms. For instance, although access to employment has improved in certain South African provinces, denial of workplace health insurance systems continues to occur in the same provinces, which eventually have a harmful impact on infected people’s health and consequently, on their ability to work efficiently. Furthermore, human rights issues have emerged from the fact that there are disparities regarding the access to antiretroviral therapies and other methods of care. The groundbreaking international and universal response to AIDS has been embodied by the World Health Organization, when at the dawn of the 1980s, empathy and concern began to spring for people infect with HIV/AIDS: this disease was clearly and explicitly becoming a human rights issue. Protection of these rights was henceforward recognized to be a key factor to the potential and hoped reversing of the emerging spread of HIV/AIDS. Thus, this public health strategy became an integral part of international law, and the ensuing pioneering improvement was the acknowledgement of the applicability of international law to HIV/AIDS, holding international organizations and states widely liable for their actions regarding the treatment of people afflicted with HIV/AIDS (Forman 2012).
Yet, it is far from being the only violation of human rights that caused the massive spread of the virus. The violation of gender equality is another source of propagation for the disease, as gender based violence (GBV) is unfortunately common in South Africa. Indeed, reports show that students, teachers, and others often harassed, assaulted, abused, and raped girls in school. Although the law normally obligates schools to divulge such actions to the authorities; members of the schools’ administrations repeatedly cover sexual violence or delay disciplinary actions. HIV/AIDS has a great impact in rural South Africa, where women often say they are unable to protect themselves against HIV, as they fear violence when suggesting the use a condom to their partner. Several women even described being beaten and forced to have sex without the use of condom. In addition, a great number of women affirmed that men are often reluctant to be tested (Amnesty International). This high level of GBV intensifies the risk for women to contract the infection (SDCR). The gravity of the situation with regard to GBV should ask the country’s legislative power to try to find a legal solution to this issue, as it seems that South Africa has not been exemplary concerning the still current violation of this human right. On this same point, people often see men as responsible of GBV and, even more so, the spread of the virus, because of their idea of masculinity: boldness, irrepressible sex-drive, roughness, oppression of women, necessary heterosexuality, material achievement are usually thought to be the masculine characteristics that entail the propagation of GBV. Yet, this vision may be stereotyped, biased and simplistic and is often plagued with racism, especially in South Africa, where some white people wanted to accuse black men to be the source of the propagation of HIV/AIDS. Thus, this shows that one must be very careful when asserting the causes of the propagation in South Africa, as racism is still present in the debate (Reihling and Hanspeter 2013).
In sum, the situation in South Africa with regards to AIDS is catastrophic: the country has the highest rate of infection in the world, and numbers show that the virus is still expanding in South African provinces, especially among black people. Nonetheless, solutions can be found fight against this problem. For instance, the understaffing of personnel qualified to prevent and cure HIV/AIDS is a major issue with regards to AIDS in South Africa. In the future, for the sake of reacting to this, scholars suggest the idea of funding commitments and create more health facilities, infrastructures, and equipment. In order to strengthen its citizens’ right to health, South Africa should strengthen its health system. Thusly, two serious challenges stem from treatment era: firstly, the shortages and turnover in health personnel (a sufficient number of qualified doctors and nurses, competently motivated); and the creation of a cheap and sustainable supply of ARV and other medication, comprising generic copies (Jones and Peris 2009). At an international level, developed nations are more and more obliged to help countries with a high HIV/AIDS infection rate to fulfill human rights duties. Thus, the international community has to understand that, even in 2015, HIV/AIDS is still a major concern with regards to global health and human rights violations.
- Amnesty International, 2013. « Amnesty International’s Annual Report 2013: The State of the World’s Human Rights: South Africa. » Amnesty International. http://amnesty.org/en/region/south-africa/report-2013
- Amnesty International. 2008 “Impact of HIV/AIDS on women in rural South Africa revealed.” Amnesty International. http://www.amnesty.org.au/news/comments/10674/
- 2009 « South Africa HIV & AIDS Statistics. » AVERT. http://www.avert.org/south-africa-hiv-aids-statistics.htm
- Barnett, Tony and Whiteside, Alan. 2006. AIDS in the twenty-first century: disease and globalization. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York: Palgrave Macmillan
- BBC News. 2000. « Analysis: Mbeki and the Aids sceptics »20 April. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/720995.stm
- Beck, Eduard J. The HIV pandemic : local and global implications, 2006, Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press.
- Commission for Gender Equality. 2007 “Functions of the CGE.” Commission for Gender Equality.http://www.cge.org.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=49&Itemid=71
- Coovadia, H., Jewkes, R., Barron, P., Sanders, D., and McIntyre, D. 2009. The health and health system of South Africa: historical roots of current public health challenges. Elsevier Ltd, Published Online August 25, 2009
- Forman, Lisa. Access to medicines as a human right: implications for pharmaceutical industry responsibility, 2012, Toronto : University of Toronto Press.
- Freedom House, 2013. « Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2013 ». Freedom House. http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2013/south-africa
- Goko, Coleen. 2013. “New Gender Equality Bill aims to ‘change landscape’ for SA women.” Business Day live, August 19. http://www.bdlive.co.za/business/2013/08/19/new-gender-equality-bill-aims-to-change-landscape-for-sa-women
- Jones, Peris S. AIDS treatment and human rights in context, 2009 Basingstoke, England ; New York : Palgrave Macmillan
- Jönsson, Christer, and Kristina Jönsson. 2012. « Global and Local Health Governance: Civil society, human rights and hiv/aids. » In Third World Quarterly 33, no. 9: 1719-1734. Historical Abstracts, EBSCO host (accessed December 14, 2013).
- Presidency Republic of South Africa. Office on the Status of Women. 2000. South Africa’s National Policy Framework for Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality. http://www.info.gov.za/otherdocs/2000/gender.pdf
- Reihling, Hanspeter. Positive Men: searching for relational dignity through health activism in a South African township, 2013, Routledge/Taylor & Francis, Abingdon UK.
- C., Kalichman, and Simbayi L. 2004 « Traditional Beliefs about the Cause of AIDS and AIDS-related Stigma in South Africa. » in AIDS Care: Psychological and Socio-medical Aspects of AIDS/HIV, University of North Dakota Shool of médecine and Health Sciences, Carfax Publishing
- Solomon R. Benatar, M.B., Ch.B. Health Care Reform and the Crisis of HIV and AIDS in South Africa, 2004, N Engl J Med 2004; 351:81-92. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMhpr033471
- S. State Department. Human Rights Reports. U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012. http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/#wrapper