Legal Issues in AIDS
HIV/AIDS is a disease like any other disease and is like many other health issues in the modern society. When this disease was uncovered, it started with a cloud of anxiety and fear due to the fact that, at first, people did not know how this disease is passed from one person to another. When people came to know that the disease is infectious, that it was potentially deadly, and that there was no cure, people became more afraid. This caused more discrimination and stigma against individuals who were already infected. As a reaction, health officials put a lot of efforts to provide adequate and accurate information related to the disease. They provided people with information on what the disease was and what it was not, how it is transmitted and how individuals could avoid acquiring it. Public health officers had realized that the stigma and discrimination that was attached to the disease was preventing people from getting tested and knowing their status. This was the only way people would protect themselves and those infected get proper healthcare. Regardless of the efforts that were put by public officers, community based organizations, medical professionals, people living with the disease and HIV/AIDS advocates creating awareness, discrimination still continues. Discrimination is a legal issue that has faced and continues to face people with HIV/AIDS (Hel, McGhee and Mestecky, 2006). This paper discusses discrimination as a legal issue that HIV/AIDS patients face.
Stigma and discrimination
Discrimination against those infected by HIV/AIDS refers to when a person is discriminated against, treated badly or oppressed because of their real or perceived HIV status. Stigma and discrimination attached to HIV/AIDS is the prejudice, abuse, negative attitudes, and maltreatment that are directed to HIV/AIDS patients. The effects of this stigma and discrimination can be wide-ranging. People with HIV/AIDS have been rejected by the families, peers and the society in general. Some have experienced poor treatment in education, healthcare and employment. People have been fired from their employment, removed from their homes, and denied access to health care and social services because of their HIV status. Some people have forced others to have compulsory tests without their approval or protection of confidentiality. Abuse of the rights of the people with the disease is common (Lengauer, Altmann, Thielen and Kaiser, 2010). There are countries and communities where people living with the disease have been quarantined in fear of infecting others. These kinds of treatment and behavior have led to psychological issues as well as destructive effect in the testing and treatment of the disease. Stigma and discrimination associated with the disease exists in every part of the world, regardless the fact that they manifest themselves in varying magnitudes. They manifest themselves in a different way across communities, countries, religious groups and persons. They happen alongside other kinds of stigma and discrimination like homophobia, racism, or misogyny. They can even be directed to the people who are known to involve in what are taken as socially objectionable behaviors such as drug use and prostitution (Del Rio and Curran, 2009).
This issue affects not only the efforts of individuals to come to terms with the disease and manage it at an individual level, but they also affect the efforts of fighting with the epidemic in general. The stigma and discrimination that is associated with HIV/AIDS can affect the efforts of the government to take effective and fast actions, on a national level. On an individual level, these issues are known to make people shy away from being tested and getting timely treatment and care. According to the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, “Stigma remains the single most important barrier to public action. It is a main reason why too many people are afraid to see a doctor to determine whether they have the disease, or to seek treatment if so. It helps make AIDS the silent killer, because people fear the social disgrace of speaking about it, or taking easily available precautions. Stigma is a chief reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world” (Lengauer, Altmann, Thielen and Kaiser, 2010:67).
Reasons for stigma and discrimination
There is fear of infection that is coupled with the negative view of the people who are infected. There are various factors that have been known to contribute to the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS. One of the factors is the fact that the disease is life-threatening and this make people to react to it in a negative manner. Infection with the disease is associated with immorality and other socially unacceptable behaviors like homosexuality, prostitution, drug abuse and promiscuity. These behaviors that are associated with the disease are already stigmatized in the society. Majority of the individuals who are infected get it through sexual acts, which by themselves carry a moral baggage (Piot, 2007). People have also been misinformed in as far as the disease is concerned. Religious as well as moral beliefs have led people to belief that HIV/AIDS is as a consequence of moral fault that deserves punishment. The fact that the disease is a new one also makes the stigma attached to it even worse. The fear that was associated with the disease as it emerged in the 80s is still fresh in the minds of many people. From the time it emerged, a serious of strong and powerful images were utilized to justify and reinforce stigmatization. Such images include: as a punishment for immorality, as a crime in relation to the guilty and innocent victims, as war in relation to a virus that had to be fought, as horror in which those infected should be feared and demonized, and as otherness in which is an affliction for the people set apart (Hel, McGhee and Mestecky, 2006).
After decades of widespread stigma and discrimination, legal measures have been developed in then effort to protect the people loving with HIV/AIDS and advancing the efforts to fight the epidemic. In the United States, congress passed Federal legislations aimed at protecting these people from discrimination on the basis of their HIV status. These people deserve equal legal protections as those with medical disabilities. One such legislation was Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. There was expansion of this legislation to reach Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These laws made discrimination illegal. Bragdon v. Abbot was a case in the Supreme Court involving discrimination on the basis of this disease. In this case, the court passed a ruling that congress intended protection of infected people under the people with disabilities. HIV infection in the country has been revealed to fall under disability based on federal and state legislations that protect those with disabilities from all sorts of discrimination. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996) was also passed to provide legal protection. It is developed in such a way that it provides protection of the privacy if health information and medical records. It also offers patients the right to access their personal records and with considerable control over how this information is utilized and disclosed (Ogden and Nyblade, 2005).
Future of AIDS patients in the context of discrimination
Although HIV/AIDS infections have declined in the recent years, there are still very many cases of people living with the disease. Laws and legislations that have been developed as a means of fighting discrimination have proven effective, in preventing discrimination in the public arena. This means that they have assisted in preventing discrimination in health care, education and employment. This is because people discriminated against on the basis of their HIV status have the legal instruments to obtain redress. However, this does not mean that stigma associated with the disease will end. People will still hold those social and religious beliefs that advance stigmatization. Nevertheless with the efforts of creating awareness and providing people with more information this stigma will reduce and more people who are infected will go for testing and receive care and treatment (Hel, McGhee and Mestecky, 2006).
Discrimination is a legal issue that has faced and continues to face people with HIV/AIDS. This paper discusses discrimination as a legal issue that HIV/AIDS patients face. Discrimination is the negative treatment, abuse or oppression of people on the basis of their HIV status. Stigma and discrimination attached to HIV/AIDS have been around since the emergence of the disease in the 1980s. People have been denied access to important services such as medical, educational, housing and employment due to their HIV status. This problem exists in every part of the world, though differently. Laws and legislations have been developed aimed at protecting the people with the disease from discrimination, and they are seemingly effective. However, stigma and discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS is not likely to end in the near future.
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