XVIII International AIDS Conference, Vienna, Austria

AIDS Campaign needs a broader vision of the human person

JULY 20, 2010:On July 19, former President of the United States Bill Clinton gave an address to the participants of the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria emphasizing “harm-reduction.” In his address, he stressed the need for increased funding and proper distribution of funding for ARTs, clean needles, condoms and many other commodities. As our delegates from World Youth Alliance participate in the International AIDS Conference for the fourth time, Mr. Clinton’s speech reminds us that the current AIDS campaign lacks a vision of the human person and authentic development which are so necessary to addressing AIDS.

The current campaign uses a “risk-reduction” approach, which tends to see the human person affected by HIV as not a person but more as a mere potential transmitter of a virus. When viewed this way, the needs of the human person emotionally, physically and spiritually are brushed to the side in favor of reducing the risk of transmission. Don’t get me wrong – reducing the risk of transmission is a great thing, but it must be combined with an understanding of the human person as a complex being with various needs that must be met in order to encourage flourishing.

A pertinent example can flesh out the differences in these two approaches: “person-centered” vs. “risk-reduction-centered.” In our campaign to reduce the stigma of sex work and to provide sex workers with condoms (the “risk-reduction” approach), we have forgotten that the majority of sex workers are trafficked, physically abused and suffering from drug addiction. We have ignored the fact that most sex workers do not choose sex work but found themselves in situations of extreme poverty and nowhere to go. A person-centered approach goes beyond reducing the risk of transmission through increased condom use, and looks to the physical and mental health of the individual sex worker.

What does the person-centered approach mean practically? In addition to encouraging condom use with clients, it addresses the pressing overall health needs of the sex worker. Is he or she physically abused by clients, pimps or brothel owners? Is exiting sex work the only way to escape that abuse? If the answer is yes (and it likely is “yes”), then exit programs and social services are made available so that he or she can transition into employment that does not risk his or her overall health. Vocational training, foreign language skills, immigration help or counseling on how to overcome what are often years of physical abuse and drug addiction are provided.

A person-centered approach moves beyond provision of commodities and addresses the overall health of the individual. A condom will not protect the sex worker from physical abuse, drug addiction, stigmatization, discrimination, and alienation, and on its own can only make him or her into a commodity or a vector of disease.

To find out more about the World Youth Alliance please visit our website

Written by: Rebecca Marchinda, Canada, World Youth Alliance Member

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