In October 2014, The Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) sent a detailed letter to the Yemeni minister of health, Dr. Ahmed Qasem Al-Ansi. The letter highlighted the fact that the HRW had direct evidence that HIV patients were routinely being refused treatment in Yemeni hospitals. Human Rights Watch spoke to seven HIV-infected individuals in Yemen who proclaimed that they had been continually denied treatment once the hospital staff were informed the patients were HIV positive. Several health workers also told HRW that they believed such discrimination is not unusual in state-run healthcare facilities. The United Nations agency UNAIDS has estimated that there were about 6,000 people living with HIV inYemen in 2013.
The applicable laws, both international and domestic, share a similar stance. The right to the highest attainable standard of health is guaranteed under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which Yemen ratified in 1987. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which ensures that countries are following the convention’s provisions, says governments “should ensure that appropriate goods, services and information for the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, are available and accessible.” Furthermore, in 2009 the Yemeni parliament approved a statute directly addressing protection of the rights of people living with HIV.
The most disturbing element of this issue is the fact that even after Yemen’s attempts to mitigate the damage to HIV positive patients legally, there are still reports of discrimination. Dr. Ahmed al-Garati, who treats individuals living with HIV in Sanaa’s Republican Hospital stated, “We provide our employees with all the necessary safety equipment so this has nothing to do with the risk . . . the same healthcare workers have no problem dealing with patients who have other diseases that carry a higher risk of infection. So why is there still discrimination?
In a 2012 Yemen Times article, Sadeq Al-Wasebi referenced factors that Yemen had to address before this discrimination would end. The most prevalent reason purported to explain this discrimination is a lack of education on the topic of HIV. Abdu Al-Mansoob, head of the Abu Moosa Al-Ashari Association, is an Yemeni HIV activist who has voiced his opinion on the issue. Al-Mansoob’s association has been trying to reduce the negative treatment of HIV patients by educating journalists, security officers, judges and public officials but he still believes more needs to be done. He stated, “Most people in Yemen accuse AIDS sufferers of having sex and engaging in immoral behaviors,” he said. “We must deal with HIV/AIDS victims as human beings, regardless of what they have done. We should realize that all people are vulnerable to mistakes.”
How will Yemen be able to provide adequate and equal healthcare to its citizens if there are ideological issues causing discrimination? How can the Yemeni government combat the inherent disdain towards HIV patients? How can the HIV patients receive treatment while Yemen deciphers how to mitigate HIV discrimination?
Sources: HRW, HRW, Yemen Times, ICESCR
All individuals should be guaranteed the right to receive medical treatment regardless of any diseases he or she may carry. It is inappropriate that healthcare workers are reacting this way in Yemeni hospitals. To refuse an individual of medical assistance because he or she is HIV positive is not acceptable. Healthcare employees go to school to be able to help people and save their lives. It is shocking that they would want to see a victim of HIV suffer. The Yemeni government needs to take action in order to make sure that hospitals are providing adequate and equal healthcare to its citizens. The Yemeni government should set up a program in hospitals to educate the employees about HIV.
Additionally, it should be mandatory that each employee attends this program. The employees need to understand that it is not acceptable to turn down these patients. I believe if the employees are educated enough on the topic and understand that they are provided with safety equipment so they will not catch HIV from the patients this will change their perspective. Additionally, I think the government should take action or notify hospitals that if employees do refuse to assist patients with HIV then consequences will occur. The government needs to send a message so that healthcare employees understand that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.
I agree that education is probably the most efficient way to end the discrimination toward HIV patients in Yemen. The Yemen government should mandate that all HIV patients be treated equally like any other patient, and hold any hospitals that violate this mandate criminally liable. Also, as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) required that all persons with sexually transmitted diseases receive the appropriate and accessible treatment, the international community should also take responsibility to assist and enforce this educational process and end this discrimination. All persons should be equal under the law, whether domestic or international law, and these patients should not have to suffer any further due to some ridiculous and backwards social stigma.