World AIDS Day 2009

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December 1, 2009

World AIDS Day 2009 is being commemorated under the theme of "Universal Access and Human Rights." All people, regardless of HIV/AIDS status, have the right to be treated with dignity and respect. They must have the right to protect themselves from the virus and have access to treatment if infected. Discriminatory practices-which put people at risk for contracting HIV, prevent them from accessing medical care, and prohibit them from living full and meaningful lives-must end.

As set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings "are born free and equal in dignity and rights" and have the right to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being. The Hunger Project's (THP's) integrated development approach, which includes our response to HIV/AIDS, is based on a fundamental regard for human rights.

For example, THP's HIV/AIDS and Gender Inequality Workshop, given in eight African countries, is based on the belief that all people have the right to decide with whom, when and whether to have sex, as well as the right to have accurate information and tools to protect themselves. To date, 880,000 grassroots people have taken this workshop.

This approach is yielding positive results. For example, in Malawi, an external impact assessment shows that in communities where THP works, there has been marked increase in the demand for female condoms, as well as a significant increase in the number of people seeking testing. Most importantly, the rate of people testing positive has decreased significantly, and those rates are now lower than the national HIV prevalence rate.

Another example from Malawi of a successful rights-based approach is THP's unique Microfinance Program for People Living with HIV/AIDS. While many NGOs do not provide loans to HIV-positive people out of fear that they will die before loans are repaid, THP acts differently. THP believes that all people have the right to access resources that can help them live better and more independent lives.

With access to loans, people living with HIV/AIDS can, and do, improve their lives. For example, Meliya Mwambucha was an HIV-positive widow with no source of income, who, before becoming involved with THP, tried in vain to get a loan to start a small business. She was finally able to receive a loan from THP. Now, she has a successful business, has repaid her loan, and most importantly, has improved her health. Prior to starting her business, she weighed 84 pounds; now she weighs a robust 154 pounds! Meliya comments "It's like The Hunger Project has resurrected me from the grave. I was dying and I am now revived."

On World AIDS Day 2009, THP calls on the entire world community to take concrete actions to ensure that all people have the right to protect themselves from HIV and to access to treatment if infected. Individuals can support organizations which seek to address HIV/AIDS through a rights-based approach. Governments must put into place and enforce policies to empower at-risk groups, especially women and girls, so that they can protect themselves from contracting the virus. In addition, policies must be implemented to ensure universal access to treatment and care for people who are HIV-positive, as well as access to all other benefits citizens enjoy.