Bias against Aids victims 'helping to spread virus'

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The Independent Online

Public health is threatened by discrimination against people with HIV and Aids, according to a report out today.

Stigma directed against people with HIV/Aids can foster the spread of the virus by making it difficult for individuals to acknowledge their infection and ensure others are protected.

The report by the UK Forum on HIV and Human Rights is launched on World Aids Day, whose theme this year is "Shared Rights, Shared Responsibilities". The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 14 million adults have HIV or Aids - 8 million men and 6 million women. Every day more than 6,000 people are infected. More than 4 million are thought to have died.

The forum says a fresh commitment to human rights is needed if prevention and treatment are to be successful. It found that prejudice remains in many areas, including work, housing, and finance.

A West Midlands Citizens' Advice Bureau reported that after a client, who worked in a pub, cut his hand on a broken glass, the landlord and customers were told he was HIV positive and he was dismissed as the landlord "wanted to preserve the trade".

Another client returned to work after two months' sick leave to find he was limited in the amount of machinery he could use and was required to wear rubber gloves for all activities. After further sick leave, he was told not to return to work but was promised an alternative position. It never materialised.

The Disabilities Discrimination Bill, which includes HIV and Aids, is a "welcome step", the report says, but "does not afford comprehensive protection".

As regards housing, the Aids and Housing Project 1994 found in one study that 79 per cent of those with HIV had been forced to move by neighbours, family and friends, and 32 per cent had suffered harassment. "Gareth", who had been rehoused in a council flat, had stones thrown at him in the street, his windows smashed and his flat firebombed. He spent pounds 1,500 on security equipment, but by the time the local authority offered him bed and breakfast accommodation his health had deteriorated to such an extent that he had to be visited by a community nurse at least once a day.

As gay men are perceived to be "high risk", financial institutions have discriminated against them by denying them services or offering them at a greater cost, according to a Department of Health report, Aids and Life Insurance. No person who is HIV positive may obtain life assurance.

Regarding women, research has tended to focus on HIV transmission from women rather than to women. In addition, the specific treatment needs of women with Aids have received short shrift with most clinical research targeted at men.

Ceri Hutton, chairwoman of the UK Forum on HIV and Human Rights, said: "A strong commitment to the human rights of people with HIV is essential. Individuals who are stigmatised may be less likely to be open about their HIV status, they may be less likely to seek the information and treatment they need."

World Aids Day, Section Two, pages 6-8