UNAIDS calls for respect for human rights and focus on people to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic

UNAIDS calls on countries to adopt a human rights-based approach to respond to the global outbreak of COVID-19. This approach must put people at the center and respect everyone's rights and dignity. To help guide governments, communities and other stakeholders in planning and implementing measures to contain the pandemic, UNAIDS has produced a new guidance document that is based on important lessons from the response to the HIV epidemic: Rights in times of COVID-19 : lessons from HIV for an effective people-centered response.

The new orientation of UNAIDS is based on laws and international human rights obligations and makes clear that respond to an epidemic is not a matter of balancing public health and human rights, but that a successful and effective response requires our adherence to the principles human rights. The guidance was developed by a group of international experts from community contexts, from the spheres of public health, from the United Nations academy.

"Successful responses to global epidemics are always based on respect for human rights and community leadership," said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS. "Countries that have had the greatest success in reducing the impact of HIV have achieved this because they have loved community empowerment approaches for conducting consultations, testing and encouraging treatment when necessary, protecting themselves and others from acquiring the virus."

The guidance provides important lessons from the AIDS response that are crucial for an effective human rights-based approach in the context of public health emergencies. The content ranges from combating the stigma and discrimination faced by the most affected individuals and communities to prioritizing measures to reach the most vulnerable, removing barriers to the exercise of human rights, establishing trust between communities and security authorities. public health and the protection of the critical health team working on the front lines. 

As the document acknowledges, epidemics tend to expose and exacerbate existing inequalities in society, with a generally stronger impact among marginalized and vulnerable groups. Financial barriers and other obstacles, which prevent people from seeking help and medical advice when they need it, must be removed for their own sake and for a better impact on public health.

The guidance also warns against mandatory travel restrictions and criminal sanctions against people affected by epidemics such as COVID-19. Such measures tend to have a disproportionate effect on the most vulnerable and create more health barriers. The restrictions imposed must respect human rights and be proven to be necessary, in addition to being proportionate, informed by evidence and of limited duration. Empowering people to protect themselves and others through voluntary measures can have a greater effect.

“This is a serious and difficult situation for everyone,” said Byanyima, “to get through this, we need to build on our valuable experience of responding to other global epidemics, such as HIV: grounding the response in human rights, involving communities and do not leave anyone behind. ”


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