Monday, August 1, 2011

AIDS in rich countries


Last June 5th marks the 30th anniversary of the first recognition of AIDS, although there were cases of patients affected by this virus, which originated in Africa, since the 1960s in the US. Since then, more than 60 million people have been infected by this virus and half of them are now dead. At present, there are about 37 million people infected with HIV.
The fight against AIDS is progressing thanks to antiretroviral drugs, but they are so expensive that this treatment is only applied in rich countries. In Third World countries, AIDS is still one of the main causes of mortality. According to an UN report, in some countries in the south of Africa, one out of every four people is affected by AIDS but drugs are far beyond their means. Therefore, making AIDS treatment universal is the main priority.
In rich countries, problems are different. Some surveys reveal that the quality of life of those people recently infected with HIV is quite similar to the quality of life of non-infected people, thanks to medical treatment. And when new drugs will be available, these people will carry out a normal life, as they used to. But having a normal life involves not only having a good medical treatment against HIV, but also attacking social prejudices which turn the life of HIV-positives much more difficult.
Let’s take a look at some data: a report by the Spanish HIV-AIDS State Coordinator (CESIDA)  reveals that 30% of those polled (all HIV-positive) feel excluded from social activities, 42.2% feel excluded from the labour market, 68% feel excluded from the health care and 20.4% have been denied some health services. In order to analyse in depth this discrimination, let’s take a look at one issue: the access to financial services.
Since the virus first appeared, some insurance companies use their contractual freedom to deny life insurances and other products to HIV-positive clients. Without such insurance, banks deny mortgages and other loans, so HIV-positive people are victims of this virus far beyond its physiology. As you can read in this report, this is quite common in many countries (including Spain) and, despite many claims from the affected community and associations advocating for their rights, there is always the same problem: the claim for non-discrimination, which is one of the main constitutional rights, is at odds with the contractual freedom of insurance companies, which do not have the obligation to offer their services universally. This may be an interesting topic for discussion in Law faculties, but back in the streets, it is obvious that this is a clear case of discrimination and it should be solved. Some countries are passing laws to prevent it. In the US, where this topic has been widely argued, they have a law stating that HIV-positive people are considered to be disabled, so they cannot be discriminated. We still have a long road ahead and, for the moment, there is discrimination as long as HIV-positive people cannot have the same life as the rest of citizens.
In general, we usually look at deprived people taking into account their main needs but we forget about the rest of needs: HIV-infected people look for a cure, immigrants look for legal papers, unemployed people look for a job, homeless people look for shelter… But this is too simple and it leaves other obvious issues aside. Emergency claims are just the first step, but people’s needs for a full life, integrated within our society, go far beyond. 

Sources:

  1. First medical report about this disease mistook AIDS for some kind of pneumonia: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/june_5.htm
  2. With the information contained in hundreds of surveys about HIV virus, we got these wonderful images about the virus itself: http://visualscience.ru/en/illustrations/modelling/hiv/
  3. AIDS clock, updating the number of people with HIV: http://www.unfpa.org/aids_clock/
  4. Antiretroviral drugs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiretroviral_drug
  5. UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic: http://www.unaids.org/en/dataanalysis/epidemiology/2008reportontheglobalaidsepidemic/
  6. A survey on the normal life expectancy of HIV-infected people: http://www.aidsmap.com/Many-patients-diagnosed-with-HIV-today-will-have-normal-life-expectancies-European-studies-find/page/1437877/
  7. CESIDA report: http://www.cesida.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=736&Itemid=1
  8. On Contractual Freedom: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contractual_freedom
  9. Report about the access to insurances and mortgages of HIV-infected people: http://www.cesida.org/images/stories/documentacion/informe%20CESIDA%20-%20Acceso%20servicios%20financieros.pdf
  10. American with Disabilities Act of 1990: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Americans_with_Disabilities_Act_of_1990

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