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 Wednesday 03 October 2007
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ANGOLA: HIV positive people demand rights

Photo: Mercedes Sayagues/PlusNews
Discrimination against people living with HIV is rife in Angola.
LUANDA, 26 September 2007 (PlusNews) - For Father Luís Fernandez, of the Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Luanda, Angola's capital, a visit to the market is often an eyeopener to what life is like for people living with HIV.

"How many times have we been called to intervene because a poor woman can no longer sell or buy simply because it has been discovered that she has the virus?" he said.

HIV-positive Angolans suffer a whole spectrum of human rights violations, including discrimination at work, lack of medical treatment and prejudice.

The country has a national HIV prevalence of about 2.5 percent in a population of approximately 16 million, although infection rates vary widely by region, with some as low as 1.8 percent and others as high as 10 percent.

Illegal firings

Since 2004, Angola has had laws that guarantee rights for people living with HIV yet infected workers often lose their jobs, still have difficulty finding employment and experience discrimination in workplaces.

"We receive various cases that have already been forwarded to the justice system, but none have been adjudicated," said Noé Mateus, a representative of the Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Angola.

Mateus suspects that many illegal dismissals are taking place at private companies, without consequences for the employers. He attributed their impunity to the lack of information HIV-positive people have about their rights, that businesses seldom having a facility for dealing with complaints, and the sluggishness of the legal system.

"The slowness of the courts is discouraging. Complainants have to reveal their HIV status, deal with the stigma, and then wait years before a judgment comes down," Mateus told IRIN/PlusNews.

Despite statements from government that it supports labour and business initiatives to protect people with HIV, data based on complaints made by workers to the Ministry of Work and Social Security shows that many businesses disregard the law, demanding that workers reveal the results of HIV tests and firing those who are positive.

Obstacles to treatment

Poverty is entrenched in Angola, despite its oil-powered economic growth. Twenty-seven years of civil war took their toll on infrastructure and social services, and the UN Development Programme's 2006 Human Development Index ranked it at 161 out of 177 countries.

The situation for people living with HIV is especially severe. "What troubles me the most is seeing people die for lack of nutrition," said Elizabeth Santos, 43, who was diagnosed with HIV nine years ago.

"Many people take antiretrovirals (ARVs) while hungry. At the end of the day society will say that these people died of AIDS, but what killed them was being on therapy without also having enough food," she commented.

Taking ARVs without adequate nutrition can compromise treatment, and AIDS activists have urged the government to guarantee a basic package of foodstuffs for destitute patients taking the drugs.

Activists are also calling for the construction of a new public health facility specialising in HIV and AIDS treatment. The Esperança Clinic, the only specialised public clinic in Luanda, is too small to meet rising demand.

"It isn't discrimination to have a hospital specialising in HIV, since at many general clinics we have to deal with stigma, even from doctors. In a hospital especially for HIV we would have quality help and we would feel more at ease," said Henda Graciana, an HIV-positive AIDS activist.

Starting with the basics

Lack of information about HIV and AIDS is still one of the major reasons for stigma, especially in remote areas, while prejudice by officials in public institutions often makes it difficult for HIV-positive people to speak out about abuses.

"We need to think of incentives; create the conditions for people with HIV to come forward for help. Because of prejudice, many people just suffer from discrimination and don't bother going to competent authorities," said Roberto Brant Campos, a partnership and social mobilisation consultant for UNAIDS. He added that voluntary testing should provide an opportunity for HIV-positive people to become familiar with their rights.

Father Fernandez pointed to a need to bolster the legal infrastructure for dealing with discrimination cases. Some cases from his parish have been forwarded to the National Criminal Investigation Directorate, but with little result.

"We need to guarantee that there are people with specialised knowledge in dealing with these cases, with a sense of respect and as a way of building more confidence in the system among people with HIV," he said. Fernandez also recommended more community-based interventions, saying, "We need to change the picture."

Guaranteeing the rights of people living with HIV is an urgent concern in Angola, but Odete Tavares, an HIV-positive nurse, suggested that "It would be more realistic to start from the principle that we are citizens, with the right not to be discriminated against, to have access to medication and other basic necessities."


Theme(s): (IRIN) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), (IRIN) PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, (IRIN) Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page.