More attention needs to be focused on how human rights abuses of people living with HIV undermine the impact of scientific advances against the virus, according to the group Human Rights Watch. 'Research is central to the fight against HIV,' says Joe Amon, director of the organization's HIV program. 'But scientific advances will have little impact if people living with HIV continue to be stigmatized and abused.'
Human Rights Watch has listed examples of children and adolescents living with or at risk of HIV infection being discriminated against, sexually abused, and socially marginalized:
' On July 14 police in Kathmandu beat and sexually abused five Nepalese transgender youths. The officers also strip-searched the youths and examined them for signs of sexual intercourse. Police said that the carrying of condoms by transgender youths was an illegal act.
' On June 4 five HIV-positive children were barred from entering their school in Pampady, India. The students had not attended school since they had been kicked out in December.
' For over a year hospitals have repeatedly refused to operate on a 5-year-old orphan living with HIV in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou. Newspaper headlines have referred to the child as the 'AIDS boy.'
' In October 2006, Taiwanese officials ruled that residents of a home for people living with HIV in Taipei should move out of the area because they threatened the psychological health of neighbors.
' In January 2006 corrections officers at Buimo prison in Papua New Guinea beat and sexually abused male detainees by forcing them to have anal sex with each other. The officers still work at the prison.
Human Rights Watch has also called on scientists to protest government harassment and intimidation of AIDS activists, citing cases from Burma, China, and Zambia:
' Burmese authorities detained a leading HIV educator between May 21 and July 2. Phyu Phyu Thinn, who has cared for people living with HIV in her home, had protested against the lack of access to antiretroviral drugs in government hospitals. She was arrested and imprisoned along with other individuals while praying for the release of political prisoners.
' In China this year there have been several actions against AIDS activists and people living with HIV. On May 18, for example, two of the country's most prominent activists were placed under house arrest and barred from leaving the country; on April 11 about 350 HIVers were blocked by police from protesting over ineffective government-supplied drug treatments in Zhengzhou; and on February 1 an 80-year-old Chinese doctor was detained by officials and put under house arrest to prevent her from leaving the country to receive an award for her work on transfusion-related HIV transmission.
' In Zambia the chairwoman for the Treatment Advocacy and Literacy Campaign and another worker were detained by police on July 9 as they demonstrated in solidarity with striking health care workers.
Human Rights Watch also states that governments around the world have failed to protect women from violence that leads to HIV infection or violence directed at them because they are already HIV-positive.
'We can not end the AIDS epidemic solely through science,' Amon says. 'Scientific advances and human rights advances must go hand in hand.'