Human Rights and Public Health in the AIDS Pandemic

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Historically, the fields of public health and human rights have remained largely separate. The AIDS pandemic, however, made it clear that a complex relationship exists between the two fields. Women and children have proven to be extremely vulnerable to infection with HIV due to their inability to protect themselves in intimate relationships, their sexual exploitation, and their lack of economic and educational alternatives. On the other hand, coercive government policies aimed at controlling the AIDS pandemic often infringe on the rights of individuals known or suspected of having AIDS, and decrease the effectiveness of public health measures. Protecting and promoting human rights is becoming one of the key means of preserving the health of individuals and populations. A penetrating analysis of the close relationship between public health and human rights, this book makes a compelling case for synergy between the two fields. Using the AIDS pandemic as a lens, the authors demonstrate that human health cannot be maintained without respect for the dignity and rights of persons, and that human rights cannot be deemed adequate and comprehensive without ensuring the health of individuals and populations. In the course of their analysis, Gostin and Lazzarini tackle some of the most vexing issues of our time, including the universality of human rights and the counter-claims of cultural relativity. Taking a cue from environmental impact assessments, they propose a human rights impact assessment for examining health policies. Such a tool will be invaluable for evaluating real-world public health problems and is bound to become essential for teaching human rights in schools of public health, medicine, government, and law. The volume critically examines such issues as HIV testing, screening, partner notification, isolation, quarantine, and criminalization of persons with HIV/AIDS, all within the framework of international human rights law. The authors evaluate the public health effects of a wide range of AIDS policies in developed as well as developing countries. The role of women in society receives special emphasis. Finally, the book presents three case histories that are important in the HIV/AIDS pandemic: discrimination and the transmission of HIV and tuberculosis in an occupational health care setting; breast feeding in the least developed countries; and confidentiality and the right of sexual partners to know of potential exposure to HIV. The cases challenge readers with some of the complex questions facing policy-makers, scientists, and public health professionals, and exemplify a method for analysing these problems from a human rights perspective. Gostin and Lazzarini have written a book that will be a valuable addition to the libraries of public health teachers and practitioners, legal scholars, bioethicists, policy makers, and public rights activists.