Patients with HIV and AIDS have been routinely denied care within Yemen's healthcare system, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said. 

In a letter sent to the Yemeni minister of health, released on Monday, the US-based rights group said that authorities in the country should end discrimination by health workers against people with HIV and ensure equal access to care mandated by a 2009 law. 

Several patients were denied treatment after health workers learned they had the virus.

Six health workers told HRW they believed the practice was common in state-run health facilities. 

Three health professionals told HRW that on August 15, a doctor at a the Republican Hospital in Sanaa refused to treat a patient suffering from seizures when she learned the patient was HIV-positive. 

The biggest problem is that no staff members are held accountable for discriminating against patients with HIV.

Dr Ahmed al-Garati, Sanaa's Republican Hospital

The doctor subsequently shouted at the patient and ordered that they be removed from the hospital, they said.

The doctor also demanded that the patient's husband be arrested for having withheld the information.

The hospital staff held him for 45 minutes after which he was released with a warning saying that he "should not cause any trouble in the future," the health workers said.

'Pure discrimination'

Due to the difficulties in receiving treatment at state-run facilities, patients frequently turn to private clinics where they are charged higher fees. 

Since HIV patients are unable to use public facilities, doctors often charge individuals double the amount at the same facility and for the same procedure, one HIV-postiive individual said. 

Dr Ahmed al-Garati, who treats individuals with HIV at the Republican Hospital, expressed concern about the stigma associated with such patients.

"It is pure discrimination. The same health care workers have no problem dealing with patients who have other diseases that carry a higher risk of infection," he said.

"The biggest problem is that no staff members are held accountable for discriminating against patients with HIV." 

The right to the highest attainable standard of health is guaranteed under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Yemen ratified in 1987. 

The United Nations agency, UNAIDS, has estimated that in 2013 there were about 6,000 people living with HIV in the country. 

In a 2013 report, UNAIDS cited advances by the Yemeni government in addressing the HIV issue, but found that policies were disrupted by cuts in donor funding and the political crisis of 2011. 

Source: Agencies