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“Countries must invest in HIV positive citizens”
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“Countries must invest in HIV positive citizens”

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Angelique PouponneauWith the population of persons affected by HIV and AIDS still growing, Angelique Pouponneau, 26, a Commonwealth Correspondent from the Seychelles, looks at discrimination that can still hamper productive lives.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there were approximately 36.9 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2014. Of these 2.6 million were children.

According to the WHO, an estimated 2 million individuals worldwide became newly infected with HIV in 2014.

Out of a world of approximately 7.2 billion people, it would be irresponsible to neglect the 36.9 million people living with HIV/AIDS, and it is therefore baffling as to why some countries around the Commonwealth continue to discriminate against their own citizens and other citizens of the Commonwealth by preventing access to education based on their HIV status.

My first encounter with this situation occurred when I was approached for help in a case where a Commonwealth youth was not able to complete his studies in a Commonwealth country on the basis that his HIV status had changed from negative at enrollment to positive in his second year. His intellectual ability remained the same.

Quite recently, upon receiving a scholarship I was – to my surprise – asked to undertake a test for HIV status. I wondered – if I were HIV positive, would my country fail to see any benefit in investing in my education? I was especially concerned because the Constitution of the Republic protects me from any such practice.

Pursuant to article 27 (1) of the Constitution of Seychelles, “Every person has a right to equal protection of the law including the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set out in this Charter without discrimination on any ground except as is necessary in a democratic society.”

It is not suggested that the State is compulsorily obliged to provide educational opportunities beyond the period of compulsory education but it would be discriminatory as they were but the compelling a person to undertake the test suggested they would not offer the same for a person who is HIV+.

Now imagine babies and children who are born HIV positive. Are they not worth being invested in? Josephine, recently awarded the Queen’s Young Leader award, is testament that HIV status is immaterial to intellectual ability and the ability to transform lives. As the Queen’s Young Leaders website says:

“Josephine was born HIV positive and attends the Makerere University and John Hopkins University (MU-JHU) research centre, which aims to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV. With a group of friends she created a group called MUJHU Young Generation Alive (YGA) in response to the fact that people with HIV/AIDS have different psychological needs from those of their parents. YGA has more than 200 members. Josephine’s role includes planning support meetings, computer skills training and running music, dance and drama groups. She also advocates for paediatric HIV/AIDS care and works to combat stigma.”

Josephine’s work was recently recognised by Her Majesty Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace. Now let’s imagine if Josephine had been deprived the opportunity to attend tertiary education.

Another testament that HIV positive continues to be immaterial is the Honourable Justice Edward Cameron, who sits as a Justice of the Constitutional Court in South Africa and who is also HIV positive. As a Justice of the Constitutional Court, he has been described as “the greatest legal mind of his generation” and his career is inspiring to say the least. He was earned accolades for his legal and academic prowess. As well, he has time investment in the community at large, advocating for gay rights and ensuring non-discrimination for workers in South Africa on the basis of their HIV status. However, Justice Cameron remains acutely aware that was able to reach the age of 63 because he had financial means that enabled him to gain access to anti-retroviral treatment, and he continues to fight in order for this treatment to become more accessible.

Should we fail to invest a human being merely because of their HIV status? The answer is no. The proof is in the pudding!

photo credit: Wheeler Cowperthwaite IMG_0492 via photopin (license)

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About me: I am a barrister, advocating in all the Tribunals and Courts in the Seychelles. I am interested in sustainable development, the rule of law and international affairs.

I also support inclusive education systems so I volunteer at the School of the Hearing Impaired to teach English and Math. I would like to continue using education and the creation of opportunities for the advancement of young people, ensuring their voices are heard at national and international levels.
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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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