HIV-Infection/AIDS and Human Rights

A public debate at the Heinrich Boell Foundation South Caucasus Regional Office held on 30 November 2011 was devoted to the issue ofHIV-Infection/AIDS and Human Rights.

Main Speakers:

  • Lia Tavadze - UNAIDS Country Officer;
  • Nino Badridze - Head, Epidemiological Department, Infectious Diseases, AIDS and Clinical Immunology Research Center;Miranda Akhvlediani - Representative, Public Defender’s Office;
  • Kakhaber Kepuladze - Expert, Center for Information and Counseling Tanadgoma.             

Moderation: Gogi Gvakharia

First data about an unknown disease with a lethal outcome were reported at the end of 1970’s by the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, USA. To present, the total number of HIV/AIDS-affected population reaches 33 million worldwide. In Georgia, the first case of infection was recorded in 1989. Since then, the number of HIV/AIDS-positive persons increased to 3080. Out of this number, unfortunately, 700 passed away, some of them as a result of the virus and some of them following accompanying diseases.  ¾ of infected people are male. According to experts, despite low HIV prevalence, Georgia is considered as one of the high-risk countries in the world. In fact, Georgia is among 7 countries worldwide and 5 countries region-wide, where the number of infected population increases steadily. Despite these problems, “Georgia is a country with an established system to fight this disease”, highlighted Lia Tavadze, UNAIDS Country Officer.

However, even after several decades since its emergence, awareness among the Georgian public about the infection is still low. On the contrary to a lack of information and awareness, stigma remains strong. Results of the research, conducted within the USAID-funded project in a number of Tbilisi schools among high grade students revealed that 25% of the respondents are not aware about basic facts on HIV/AIDS and only 10% answers correctly 5 standard questions on HIV/AIDS transmission methods. The vast majority of young people consider mistakenly that an infected person should be kept isolated.

Georgiahas already adopted a special law on HIV/AIDS. Some people consider it as a positive step forward, however, some experts, including Kakhaber Kepuladze asses the adoption of the law as only the best possible way out of the current situation. “Referring to HIV/AIDS positive persons in the law amount to stigmatization of this group… What is written in the law that is different from other rights of Georgian citizens? What exceptional rights do they have? A right to education or employment..? But, they already had these rights”, noted Kepuladze.

Discussion also concerned an attitude of the Georgian Orthodox Church towards HIV/AIDS affected persons. Experts underlined that many try to avoid talking about this particular issue. The moderator raised the question whether the approach of the Church might lead to deepening feelings of self-guiltiness and enhancement of self-stigmatization among HIV positive persons. The experts underlined that the church is a reflection of the general public and societal attitudes are mirrored by its representatives. However, Tea Tsagareli, representing the USAID-funded RTI/Save the Children project on HIV/AIDS prevention informed the audience that special trainings are being conducted by her organization for the clergy of the Georgian Orthodox Church to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.

It is noteworthy that despite violations of rights of HIV/AIDS-affected persons, complaints and requests to the Public Defender to this date are virtually nonexistent. According to Miranda Akhvlediani from the Public Defender’s Office, stigma hinders persons from actively addressing the Public Defender. From her practice, she recalled only one case when HIV/AIDS patients stopped receiving state-provided medications for a month. The fear to stay without medication was so great that they overcame stigma and addressed the Ombudsman with a request to defend their rights.

A state-funded free of charge medical HIV test is not anonymous. To undergo the test it is necessary to provide the medical agency with a personal identity number. This, of course, violates the right to confidentiality, says Nino Badridze, Head of the Epidemiological Department, Infectious Diseases, AIDS and Clinical Immunology Research Center. The amendment to the law which put limitations to anonymity of tests was implemented this summer and was immediately followed by heated debates among the expert community. The issue of confidentiality is a serious problem as it hinders possibilities to detect the disease at an early stage and consequently makes the fight against it less effective.