Inside Story

AIDS: Fighting discrimination

As the UN marks World AIDS Day, we ask if prejudice and ignorance are standing in the way of an AIDS-free generation.
Last Modified: 01 Dec 2012 13:56

AIDS remains one of the world's most serious health challenges. But while HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths are both falling, we ask if the real fight is now against fear, ignorance and discrimination.

"One of the leading causes for discrimination is because we have too many laws that criminalise people ... we've got punitive laws in countries that criminalise same-sex relations, sex workers as well as HIV exposure and transmission - so this actually keeps people away from accessing essential services instead of coming forth and accessing those."

- Lynette Mabote, from the Rights Alliance for Southern Africa

The United Nations has set a three-point target as it marks World AIDS Day. It has outlined a vision to achieve zero new HIV infections, zero AIDS-related deaths, and perhaps most significantly - zero discrimination.

Campaign groups say the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS is as big a problem as the disease itself. Hospitals in China are being accused of turning away people with HIV - and refusing surgery for patients who test positive for the virus.

A study by the UN's International Labor Organisation says healthcare workers commonly shun these sorts of patients, even for ailments unrelated to AIDS.

Nigeria's AIDS Healthcare Foundation says the stigma associated with the disease is still a major challenge in Africa's most populous nation. 

The group says that despite increased awareness, being HIV positive is still considered a taboo, with many believing it to be a death sentence.

Meanwhile, the latest UN figures show that around 34 million people are living with HIV - compared to eight million in 1990. This increase is partly because people who are infected are living longer.

"We are worried that the resources are not enough that we have right now. We have about $16.8bn available for the fight against AIDS in the last year. It is important to note that more than half of that was generated by poor, developing countries themselves. Clearly we need more money."

- Bernhard Schwartländer, from UNAIDS

Rates of HIV infection have actually been reduced by half in 25 developing countries since 2001. Sub-Saharan Africa has seen a 25 per cent drop in new HIV infections but the continent remains the worst affected area, with more than 23 million people living with HIV.

The Caribbean has the second highest prevalence but new infections there have also dropped, by more than 40 per cent.

In contrast, infections in the Middle East and North Africa have risen by more than 35 per cent over the past decade, to more than a quarter of a million. And Eastern Europe and Central Asia have seen rises in new infections, in the overall number of people with HIV, and in AIDS-related deaths.

Recently, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has unveiled an ambitious blueprint on how to realise the dream of an AIDS-free generation by 2015.

"Make no mistake about it, HIV may well be with us into the future, but the disease that it causes need not be. We can reach a point where virtually no children are born with the virus, and as these children become teenagers and adults, they are at a far lower risk of becoming infected than they are today," she said.

So, how successful is the global fight against AIDS?

Inside Story, with presenter James Bays, discusses with guests: Bernhard Schwartländer, the director for evidence, strategy and results at UNAIDS; Lynette Mabote, the regional advocacy team leader for the Rights Alliance for Southern Africa; and Ju Wei Chen, the founding director of the AIDS Institute at the University of Hong Kong.


  • The first recognised case of AIDS occurred in the US in the early 1980s
  • Most of these first reported victims were gay men and people who injected drugs
  • The discovery of HIV - the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus - was made soon after
  • Since then, around 30 million people have died, with more than 60 million people infected
  • In 1998, trials of an HIV vaccine began but until now, no cure has been found
  • Last year, researchers provided an HIV vaccine to monkeys: it worked on half of the test subjects
  • Fighting the stigma associated with the infection has also shown some progress
  • In 2010, the US, South Korea, China and Namibia all lifted travel bans for people living with HIV


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