Statement

27 March 2006

Opening Remarks to the Global Consultation on the Rights of People Living with HIV to Sexual and Reproductive Health

Statement of Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director, UNFPA, delivered by video to the meeting in Addis Ababa

Hello from New York. First of all let me welcome you to this Global Consultation on the Rights of People Living with HIV to Sexual and Reproductive Health. I am happy to join you via video, but sorry that, due to prior commitments, I cannot be with you in person. Let me assure you of one thing: I am with you in spirit.

As the Executive Director of UNFPA, I have one main message: There can be no valid or effective response to HIV/AIDS without respect for the human rights, fundamental freedoms and dignity of human beings. UNFPA is committed to the human rights of people living with HIV, including the right to sexual and reproductive health. We want to work with all of you and others to turn this commitment into action—action that can be seen and felt in your daily lives and in the lives of the millions of HIV positive people around the world.

We know that the sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights of people living with HIV are not being sufficiently addressed. We must now turn that knowledge into guidance on the way forward. The guidance is intended for policy makers, programme developers and managers, health workers, advocates and activists, and donors. All of these target groups are represented at this meeting and I am confident that your perspectives, along with those of positive persons, will produce a practical response.

I would like to thank all of you for joining this consultation and lending your voices and vision to this process. It is only by working together and extending our circle of friends that we can make a difference.

I extend a big thank you to Lynn Collins and the HIV/AIDS Branch of UNFPA and also to EngenderHealth, World Health Organization, and the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS, for working so hard to prepare and organize this meeting. And I would like to thank the International Planned Parenthood Federation, UNAIDS, and the Alan Guttmacher Institute for being co-sponsors.

I must say that I am extremely pleased with the process that has led to this consultation. The seven background papers present a gold mine of expertise on such key issues as parenthood; sexual health; contraception, abortion and fertility; the perspectives of health care workers; and the perspectives of positive people regarding testing and counselling.

The qualitative research that was conducted in Brazil, Ethiopia and the Ukraine helps to identify and understand the sexual and reproductive health needs, gaps and barriers that HIV-positive women and girls experience and encounter in their daily lives. This research is very important because it provides us with the reality upon which we must base our work. And the dialogue with HIV-positive women on rights, policies and services, through the E-forum, produced a wealth of knowledge and ideas that point the way forward.

I say this because I have seen too many times guidance that is produced by experts, which is not grounded in reality and is thus flawed from the start, and has little practical application in solving the very problems that it was meant to solve. It reminds me of the famous words of a famous man: Ghandi.

He said that if you do things for me and without me, you do them against me.

He is right. So, let us do things together. I am very pleased that positive women, men and young people were given the floor to present your perspectives at the start of this consultation. There is no better way to start and there is no better way to proceed. It gives me great hope that this consultation will contribute in a very meaningful and practical way to the development of policy and programme guidance to ensure that the reproductive rights and choices of people living with HIV/AIDS are promoted and protected.

I am talking about the right to confidentiality and fully informed consent.

I am talking about the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.

Reproductive health implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide, if, when and how often to do so.

I am talking about the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of children and to have the information and means to do so.

I am talking about the right to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.

I am also talking about the right of access to appropriate health care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant.

I am talking about the right to health, to education, to employment.

And let me say this: How you find out your HIV status and how your status is used should not violate your human rights.

Freedom from discrimination, abuse and exploitation, the right to participate in decisions that affect your life, and to privacy are fundamental human rights standards.

Everyone has the right to live in dignity.

And everyone has the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications.

These basic rights apply to all people, including people living with HIV/AIDS.

Yet, while human rights are the same for all people, the circumstances in which people find themselves are different.

HIV/AIDS is an infectious disease and so people living with HIV/AIDS have special needs, which must be addressed not only by the health sector, but also by all sectors of society so that people living with HIV/AIDS can fully exercise their human rights.

 This is the challenge we face.

In closing, I would like to wish you good luck in your deliberations. I am confident that you will produce good guidance. And I look forward to working with you, my colleagues in UNFPA and our many partners in turning the guidance you produce into concrete action.

I thank you.