History of Medicine
Solidarity and Human Rights
Stigma, discrimination, and human rights violations are interrelated. They create, reinforce, and legitimize each other. But while stigma and discrimination have led to the violation of the human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, of their families, and even those presumed to be infected, the pursuit of freedom from such discrimination has also inspired solidarity at the grassroots and international level. Public information campaigns have helped people to understand the unfairness and unjustness experienced by people living with HIV/AIDS. These campaigns can also change individual and social attitudes by moving beyond the documentation of the issue to creating positive role models and encouraging positive action.
In 1982, many AIDS-specific voluntary organizations, such as the AIDS Project of Los Angeles (APLA), were set up to address the persistent problems of misinformation and fear that dominated early reports on AIDS. The APLA established a toll-free hotline, for example, to answer questions regarding risk factors and modes of infection. Although the first hotline office was literally a closet in a community center, where volunteers answered a single telephone and read information from a one-page fact sheet, by the time of the ALPA's tenth anniversary in 1992, the organization had assisted 11,500 clients. The image of a diverse group of people holding raised hands in this APLA poster from 1986 was in strong contrast to the stereotypes and stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS at the time the poster was made. While the grave faces of the crowd reflect the seriousness of the threat, the light shining down on clasped hands symbolizes the power and promise of greater awareness. This image, epitomizing unity in diversity, challenges existing assumptions that HIV/AIDS only affects certain populations. It also contrasts markedly with the passive response of many government agencies in the 1980s. Combined with the textual message, the poster suggests that fear and ignorance can only be overcome by working together regardless of age, gender, race, or sexual orientation.
AIDSCOM, designed to provide technical support exclusively to developing countries, began as a $24 million, 6-year project of the U.S. Agency for International Development awarded to the Academy for Educational Development in late 1987. While education was a main objective, this poster reflects additional goals to strengthen local organizations and promote worldwide solidarity in the fight against HIV/AIDS through a commitment to prevention, the promotion of open international dialogue, and the development of communication technologies. In 1988, the same year that the World Health Organization announced the first World AIDS Day, this poster reflected the primary operating themes of AIDSCOM: people are at the center and partnerships are critical. The painted image of the continents filled with multi-colored faces from different cultures, along with the underlying text, elicits a message of solidarity and human rights.
From 1992 to 1997, the AIDS Control and Prevention (AIDSCAP) Project collaborated with community groups, governments, international donor agencies, nongovernmental organizations and universities to mobilize communities and resources in developing countries for HIV/AIDS prevention programs. This Colombian poster sponsored by AIDSCAP in 1994 reads, "Those who live with AIDS also have human rights." Responding to overt and covert discrimination against those with HIV/AIDS, as well as against those perceived to be at increased risk for the disease, international organizations such as AIDSCAP appropriated the language of international human rights law to challenge those types of discrimination. In this aerial view of a group of people, one man, a face in the crowd who might have AIDS, looks upward. His gaze suggests to the viewer that he is not simply an anonymous statistic. He is someone entitled to basic human rights, HIV positive or not.
Responding to the problem of discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS, the poster to the left counters the predominant views of some anti-AIDS campaigners. In response to nationwide protests about the threat of AIDS transmission in the workplace, the poster was created by the AIDS Action Committee, a community-based organization of volunteers established in 1983 that provides support services for people living with AIDS and HIV, educates the public and health professionals, and advocates for fair and effective policy at the city, state and federal levels. The image of workers holding signs protesting the presence of AIDS in the workplace evokes the sense of fear and anger central to the issue. By asserting that people with HIV/AIDS present no threat in the workplace, the underlying text and title message suggest that people are "blinded" by their own ignorance and fears.