A Person-Centered Approach to HIV/AIDS

WYA reaffirms the importance of keeping the person at the center of HIV/AIDS efforts in discussion with infections diseases expert Dr. Timothy Flanagan.


The United Nations (UN) commemorates World AIDS Day each December 1st. Created in 2004, the occasion serves as an opportunity to “raise awareness, commemorate those who have passed on, and celebrate victories,” especially in the fight against it.

In this occasion, the World Youth Alliance (WYA) re-affirms the need for a person-centered response to HIV/AIDS. The person-centered response gives particular importance to “risk avoidance,” which is based on a holistic perception of a person’s needs in prevention, treatment and support. It also emphasizes the person’s capacity to “make responsible choices” that greatly reduce his risk of contracting or transmitting HIV.

To read more about WYA’s research on HIV/AIDS, download our white paper here.

This paper is one of a series of a series by the World Youth Alliance. If you would like to read more of our research, you may check this page on our website.

Dr. Timothy Flanigan, who specializes in treatment of infectious diseases, shared some thoughts with WYA on working with HIV and AIDS patients.

timflanigan_zpsb05eb42fDr. Flanigan is a professor on the faculty of Brown Medical School. He has served as a board member for the World Youth Alliance and provides advice on HIV/AIDS.

1. What has your experience as a doctor working with HIV and AIDS patients taught you about the dignity of the person?

When people come to you as a caregiver, particularly with HIV, they are vulnerable and they come with a sense of stigma. HIV is stigmatized around the world, so often they feel a sense of shame. In many ways, HIV is the “leprosy” of our age. These patients come in terms of their medical health, but in terms of their dignity and their person, they want to know whether they will be accepted, and more than that, they may feel that they are not worth the help. As a caregiver, you have to show them that they are worth it, loved by God, and of awesome value. As a caregiver, you have to look them in the eye, take their hand, make a joke, give a pat on the shoulder, and show by gesture that they are a good person and that you are confident that they can recover their health. Show them that they are worth it.

2. How can the international community provide care that recognizes the dignity of patients who have contracted HIV?

Justice is at the forefront of this issue. Medications are life-saving and can now be provided for as little as 25 cents a day. HIV medications are just as effective as penicillin and just as available. Justice from the international community consists in making these medications accessible and available. Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) saves lives and is now very cheap. ART prevents the spreading of HIV from mother to child. A pregnant mom who is HIV positive and is on ART has little chance of spreading the virus to her child. The sexual transmission of the HIV virus is also radically reduced for someone on ART. Justice in the arena of HIV/AIDS means ensuring the availability of these life-saving, cheap drugs.

3. Why is the work of the WYA important in the area of HIV/AIDs and what have we as an organization been able to do?

Sometimes HIV and AIDS activists put “agenda” before the human person. “Agenda,” even though it’s well-meaning, can support approaches that do not take into account the circumstances of the human person, and can subsequently result in doing as much harm as good. For example, ensuring that people never re-use a needle which spreads the HIV virus is a good thing; it is a good agenda. On the other hand, the human person who is injecting drugs is enslaved to their addiction. WYA’s approach goes back to the human person and asks the question: “who is the human person?” The prevention of HIV’s spread though the availability of clean needles is important, but fighting drug addiction and providing help to the individual afflicted is a top priority and can never take second place. As another example, concurrency (multiple sexual partners) drives the spread of HIV. WYA’s position addresses not only the health consequences of the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, but also strives to address the vulnerability and exploitation which becomes routine in the face of multiple sexual partners. WYA is always striving to help the human person and support their dignity, which means that their approach is unique.

4. What is one thing that members of WYA should know and what can they do to support the integral development of persons with AIDS?

Many people infected with HIV think that they are “less than.” WYA members can reach out with a smile and a hug, or material support to show that they care, and that a person with HIV is no less a wonderful, joyous member of the human family than a person without HIV.

Want to learn more about a person-centered approach to HIV/AIDS? Check out WYA’s White Paper on HIV/AIDS, or read our fact sheet.

All of WYA’s White Papers are available at www.wya.net/research