A Return to the Beginning: Latest HHR Journal Issue

UNAIDS: #Noexcuse march against gender-based violence. The march coincides with International Men’s Day on November 19. Cape Town City centre, South Africa.
Photo: UNAIDS/Dwayne Senior

The December 2017 issue of the Health and Human Rights Journal has two special sections: Romani People and the Right to Health, and HIV and Human Rights. Speaking at the launch of the issue at the FXB Center on December 13, executive editor Carmel Williams drew commonalities between the two themed sections. “Historically the Journal has always looked at health as a human right, and when we do that, we focus on people who are suffering because their human rights are not being realized. People who suffer discrimination, who are marginalized and poor—these are the people who endure ongoing and often unnecessary poor health. This is a human rights failing. Romani people, along with people most at risk of becoming HIV positive and not receiving treatment, both share the burden of discrimination, stigmatization, and marginalization.”

Executive editor Carmel Williams

In 1998, the Journal dedicated an entire issue to HIV. The Editorial, the last written by Jonathan Mann before his tragic death that year, stated, “Failure to respect human rights and dignity was identified not only as a tragic consequence of the epidemic, but as a primary root cause of vulnerability to becoming infected with HIV, and to receiving inadequate care once infected.” The guest editors of the December 2017 special section on HIV and Human Rights refer back to this 1998 issueand observe that it called attention to the specific challenges and human rights violations faced by women, gay men and men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, and persons with disabilities, and stressed the need to address these challenges. In their editorial in this latest issue, Luisa Cabal and Patrick Eba from UNAIDS applaud the vast increase in the number of people who can now access treatment for HIV. However, they are concerned that the most marginalized people, as identified nearly 20 years ago, are still far more likely to become HIV positive, and far less likely to receive or maintain treatment. Michel Sidibé, director of UNAIDS, in his Foreword writes, “15.8 million people are still awaiting treatment, while an estimated 11 million people do not know their HIV status. Globally, adolescent girls and young women account for approximately 7,000 new HIV infections every week. These figures represent an indefensible injustice: millions of people worldwide are being denied their right to health.”

Some of the 11 papers in this special section examine the impacts of marginalization on different groups of people, and in different geographical settings—including men who have sex with men, women who suffer violence, sex workers, and children. Others look at positive results when rights-based approaches and judicialization are used to address discrimination in society or in health care settings. Many papers refer to the need for better data to measure the impact of policies and practice.

The need for data is an issue also raised in the Romani special section. In her Foreword, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye states, “the lack of standardized and systematic disaggregated data prevents us from knowing what factors are rendering Roma more vulnerable to various specific diseases and sicknesses and what exact barriers they face when trying to access health care services.” Guest Editors Jacqueline Bhabha and Magda Matache from the FXB Center joined by Teresa Sorde Marti bemoan in their editorial the lack of conclusive evidence documenting discriminatory and racist practices against Roma. However, they have brought together eight papers that document “unequal power relations, prejudicial practices, intersectional discrimination, and inequalities, looking at causes and suggesting remedies.” The health impacts on Roma people are profound and disturbing, resulting in far shorter life expectancies than non-Roma in the same communities, forced dwellings in unsanitary conditions, and as two papers document, forced sterilizations of Roma women.

This special section is the first time this Journal, or any Harvard publication, has addressed the human rights of Roma. It includes:

The Section on HIV and Human Rights has a similar range and quality of contributors. The full Table of Contents of Issue 19.2 of Health and Human Rights can be accessed here, where all articles are freely available in both PDF and HTML formats. It is an open access, online, peer-reviewed journal and a publication of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, with support from Harvard University Press.

In her concluding comments at the launch of Issue 19.2 of the Journal, Williams returned to the commonalities of the two sections, as well as themes arising from general papers in the issue. She stated that human rights should not just be used as a lens through which to document and explain the suffering that arises from discrimination, inequality, and marginalization: “Rights must also be used to address those problems. Papers in all the Journal’s sections provide evidence of the success of using human rights—in advocacy, judicialization, programs that focus on transparency, accountability, and participation, activities that promote the understanding that people are entitled to equal and non-discriminatory access to health care, and to be treated with dignity.”