Education International
Education International

Interview with Denis Burke of the World AIDS Campaign

published 14 December 2009 updated 14 December 2009

Denis Burke of the World AIDS Campaign emphasises the importance of approaching HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment work from a human rights perspective.

What was behind the decision to focus on Universal Access and Human Rights in the 2009 World AIDS Day campaign?

The theme presents an opportunity to better understand the links between human rights and AIDS. Our message is that universal access to HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support is a fundamental human right and must be an integral aspect of how we tackle HIV and AIDS now and in the future. Stigma and discrimination and punitive laws that cirminalise those who are often most affected by the epidemic, like people who use drugs, sex workers and men who have sex with men does nothing to help.

The world’s current economic woes are forcing governments to make some painful decisions. There have already been alarming instances of HIV and AIDS treatment programs being curtailed or shut down due to budgetary restrictions. 2010 marks the deadline for “the goal of universal access to comprehensive prevention programmes, treatment, care and support by 2010” as agreed upon by world leaders at the UN General Assembly’s 2006 High Level Meeting on AIDS. It also marks a comprehensive review of progress and trends for the Millennium Development Goals . World AIDS Day is an important opportunity to emphasise the critical need for universal access.

Many of those in need of HIV services are still the least likely to receive them. Universal Access and Human Rights creates an opportunity to highlight the plight of those most stigmatised and marginalised . Rights- based approaches are being strengthened in other campaign areas (e.g. there is a growing focus on the Right to Food) which helps to raise awareness about human rights and its language.

What role do you see for unions and teachers in AIDS advocacy?

World AIDS Day is one of the most recognised international health days. Teachers and unions play a unique role in promoting and supporting national and international efforts to raise awareness and to educate on HIV and AIDS in, and through, the world of education. Creating an environment where learners and educators feel confident and comfortable in discussing issues around HIV and AIDS is crucial. World AIDS Day presents an opportunity to explore the vital importance of safeguarding everyone against HIV and AIDS through comprehensive safety and health programmes, and easy access to information. Furthermore, it is a chance for both learners and educators to tackle stigma and discrimination connected to HIV and AIDS, but also stigma and discrimination attached to marginalised, at- risk groups such as men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who use drugs, and migrants.

How important is education in the response to the AIDS epidemic?

On a person to person level, education can help to counter misconceptions that lead to discrimination and stigmatisation, ultimately leading to better living, working and learning environments for people living with HIV. On a global level HIV and AIDS have different associated issues in different parts of the world. Understanding the many facets of both the epidemic and the global response helps to create empathy and support for people living with HIV, and to dispel persistent myths such as that AIDS is only an African problem.