Friday, March 2, 2012

HIV – A Disease of Poverty?

Last week I attended a meeting at the UN. This side event for the Fifteenth Session of the Commission for Social Development focused on “Poverty as a contributing factor to and consequence of HIV infection”. The meeting examined how poverty and HIV intersect in the USA, India and on the African continent. Here is a summary:

* Felix Jones from VIVAT International described HIV and poverty in India. He explained how HIV can be devastating for a family who might already have economical struggles. For example, the infected parent will lose his/herjob; the family will lose their income and they will be pushed into poverty. The children will have to quit school and start working to help the family’s finances. Wives will engage in prostitution to produce income which means the disease will be spread further. Daughters will marry earlier than usual. Because the family can’t afford medications, the parents die young and leave the grandparents to care fo their grandchildren.

* Eric Sawyer from UNAIDS demonstrated the strong link between poverty and AIDS in both Africa and US. He explained that heterosexuals that live below the poverty line in the US are five times more likely to get infected with HIV compared to the rest of the nation’s heterosexual population, regardless ethnicity and culture. Having a person with HIV in the family pushes that family into greater poverty. If you barely can afford to feed your family, it is impossible to afford medical aid.

* Professor Beatrice J. Krauss studied new HIV infections in inner city of New York. She studied different areas and found that the Lower East Side has the highest rate of new HIV infections in the US, with 2 percent of all the new infections, that she attributes to the history of the neighborhood as a center of sex and drug trafficking. It also hosts housing projects for low-income persons.

Panelists, such as Eric Sawyer said “sex is everywhere, but you can't talk about it.” He believes that the US has become more conservative than it was earlier. In the 80's condom commercials appeared on TV, but today such information is not allowed on day time television. Consequently, he is not surprised that the US has the highest teen pregnancy in the western world.

Michael Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director, called on the African governments to invest in AIDS programs in the countries across the region. Today, foreign donors pay for African AIDS program that serve over 4 million Africans citizens who are depending on it. He said that Africa must stop depending on external resources, especially when it comes to HIV responses. He believes an African agency could provide its own medications and should do so. France suggested that African nations should start taxing their alcohol, cigarettes and cell phones to support such expenditures.

There is another link between poverty and new HIV infections. In India, the USA and Africa, poverty and hunger are increasing. Some 26 percent of the world’s population lives on less than $1.25 per day. One can argue that HIV does not discriminate, but it is becoming a disease for the impoverished. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights guarantees to protect the rights of all members of the human family. It states that “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. ”Social origin often means one’s class in society. Are poor people protected by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights?

This side event focused only on the younger population. Seniors and older adults were only described as care givers for their grandchildren due to their parents dying from the virus. In earlier articles I have mentioned that seniors are being pushed into poverty with high medical bills and a depressed national economy. (In the meantime, the US stock market has hit the high level it held in 2008). Because many older adults and seniors are also getting infected, we must examine the link between poverty and new HIV infections among elders.

Sanna Klemetti

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