16 September 2023
Lunch session on HIV/AIDS prevention and best practices
The Global Equality Caucus hosted a lunch session on HIV/AIDS prevention at the Maltese Parliament. Best practices were shared together with a current state of affairs.
Good afternoon everyone
On December 1st of last year, on World Aids Day, the Finance Tower in Brussels was covered in bright red lights.
This government building, that also houses my office, is one of the highest buildings in Brussels, visible from all over the city. By coloring it red, we placed the fight against HIV/AIDS literally in the middle of society, at the heart of the European capital.
Even though this might seem merely symbolic, I find this a very valuable initiative. I am happy we participated in it – because it symbolizes that, today, the debate on HIV is still too often conducted in the margins, which allows stigma, prejudice and ignorance to determine the conversation.
And that’s precisely the issue people living with HIV suffer from – up until today. They are still fighting the stigma; they are still discriminated against.
Even in health care. According to Sensoa, a Belgian organization working on sexual health, 1 out 3 people living with HIV experienced discrimination in the health care sector. 16% were even denied the care they needed. I find it shocking that these numbers are still this high today - especially in a medical context.
It reminds me of the beginning of my career as a gynecologist, where I noticed that women living with HIV, who had to give birth, were often treated as pariahs - out of fear and ignorance. Back then, it was our job as doctors to inform everyone working in the hospital about the existing procedures by which there was no possible risk of transmission.
Today our knowledge and treatments are much more advanced. We know that ‘undetectable is untransmittable’. We've come a very long way, but we are not there yet.
And that’s why we need to finally end the stigma surrounding HIV - because it often rages more heavily than the virus itself. Therefore, we wanted to bring the debate out of the margins, into the center of the conversation by our symbolic action.
Does this mean that no new legislation is needed? Not at all.
Today, HIV continues to impact key populations more than the general population. And access to testing, medication or prevention is still not available to all.
That’s why addressing inequality is key to a sound hiv-policy.
Therefore, in Belgium, we are working hard on giving everyone access to PrEP, for example, as it greatly reduces the number of infections.
A recent study of UN Aids shows that, today, the biggest breakthroughs are seen in countries where leaders show a strong commitment to put people first, to protect human rights, to invest sufficiently in proven strategies, to fight any form of discrimination.
We must ensure that everyone has easy access to testing and prevention. That equal rights are guaranteed, and key populations are not criminalized or discriminated against.
The goals are clear, the strategies known - we just need active leadership to make it happen.
Leadership that provides adequate resources for organizations working around prevention and health; and involves them. Leadership that is committed to international cooperation and sharing of knowledge and technologies. Leadership that puts citizens' health and well-being first.
Only by tackling the stigma and inequality can we achieve our goals.
And I can promise you here today that, when it comes down to it, I will continue to stand up for every person's sexual health and everyone's equal rights. That's why I took my oath as a medical doctor, that's why I got into politics.
Thank you for inviting me to be here today. And I wish you all a colorful Europride.