What do we mean by “Human Rights of people living with HIV”? Are there any laws and measures related to the protection of the rights of people living with HIV in Greece? Do we know what these rights are? How can we figure out when these rights are violated? Where shall we ask for help when we experience social injustice or discrimination against us?
We do not have easy answers for the above mentioned questions. Basically because Greek legislation is not that clear regarding Human Rights. In addition, we are often not aware ourselves that we are victims of discrimination and even when we are aware, we are afraid to further expose ourselves by revealing our status or we have a false belief that we will make things worse if we decide to disclose such a condition.
In 1996, the Greek Ministry of Health published a guide of principles of human rights and civil liberties regarding people living with HIV. Mr. Harris Politis, Counselor of KEELPNO (Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention), author of this project, mentioned that “These principles do not consist a strict legislation. They just form a code, which results from the internationally accepted principles of human rights and civil liberties, international conventions and declarations, the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.”
After the issuing of the decision of the Supreme Civil and Criminal Court of Greece (Arios Pagos) which does not consider valid as a case for dismissal from work of a person living with HIV on the grounds of “conservation of the peaceful working environment of a company”, we were invited by the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) to record the key areas of human rights violations of people living with HIV. In order to better understand the issue, we divided it into three categories:
1. Access to healthcare
In this case, examples of human rights violations and discriminations are well known and numerous: when people living with HIV want to have some general medical examinations “accidentally” the (CT or MRI) scanners are out of work, there are no available surgeons (e.g. there was no available obstetrician for a pregnant woman living with HIV), dentists declare “non-specialized” to treat people living with HIV etc. We must be aware that no doctor has the right to refuse medical care to patients living with HIV. Did you know that people without health insurance, especially economical immigrants have no access to antiretroviral treatment? Usually, hospital units cover the needs of such cases but with the current financial crisis it is unsure that they will afford to keep on doing so. It is important for antiretroviral therapy to be given for free to everyone residing in Greece regardless of their residence status (with or without residence permits), their country of origin (whether they can receive medication in their country or not), their employment status or their income. These are basic principles of humanity for a country that wants to be considered civilized.
The National Bank of Greece had included HIV testing among other medical tests as a hiring condition. CENTRE FOR LIFE had denounced this condition to the mass media as well as to the independent authority of legal support for citizens (Ombudsman) and thankfully this condition was retracted (withdrawn) from the recruitment terms. HIV test is also required as a condition for admission to vocational schools of the National Organization of Tourism. CENTRE FOR LIFE has also denounced this issue. There have also been reports from employees of large companies, that they have been tested without their consent, but have no evidence to prove it. Another big issue is the waiver of confidentiality on the part of health professionals, civil servants, teachers, etc. A common example is the disclosure of the HIV status to relatives of the patients without their consent. Naturally, ignorance, especially among medical and nursing stuff, is not an excuse since practitioners are bound by the Code of Conduct. Issues of special training courses in order to better deal with such circumstances, as well as more stringent penalties, such as forced leave of absence for these professionals would have to be discussed.
3. Labor Rights
Layoffs following the disclosure of a positive HIV status is a serious issue and those layoffs are often carried out under false pretexts. Besides layoffs, people living with HIV have experienced demotions as it has been reported to CENTRE FOR LIFE, e.g. someone with an office clerical job was obliged to run errands, someone else never got promoted as he deserved to. But the most extreme case took place in public service (where it is difficult to dismiss or degrade someone): the employee was asked not to come to his office, but continue to get paid as usual. According to law No. 4443/2016, any form of discrimination due to disability is been forbidden, however, employees rarely know about this law or dare to make use of it.
Surely, there are many more examples of violating the rights of people living with HIV. The most important fact is to know your rights and to report such violations. The authorities where you may report or submit your complaint is the Greek Ombudsman and the Hellenic Data Protection Authority. You can also ask to remain anonymous in both of these services and if you do not wish to attend you can delegate CENTRE FOR LIFE to submit the complaint on your behalf through its Social and Legal Services. CENTRE FOR LIFE operates as a means of protection for the rights of people living with HIV but also pressure the government authorities to form a legal framework. Aiming to bring to light and report such issues, is a key step towards the improvement of the system and the alleviation of social inequalities.