Countries meeting at a United Nations summit in New York today adopted ambitious new targets to defeat AIDS, with the aim of ridding the world of a disease that has claimed more than 30 million lives since it was first reported three decades ago.
The High-level Meeting on AIDS brought together 3,000 participants, including 30 heads of State and government, along with senior officials, representatives of international organizations, civil society and people living with HIV, to chart a path for the future of the AIDS response.
“The momentum we’ve experienced here again confirms the essential role of the UN in the AIDS response,” Paul De Lay, Deputy Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), told reporters. “This meeting intends to bring us to the beginning of the end of AIDS.”
The declaration adopted by Member States of the General Assembly contains clear, measurable targets, including to halve sexual transmission of HIV by 2015, to reduce HIV transmission among people who inject drugs by 50 per cent by 2015, to ensure that by 2015 no child will be born with HIV, to increase universal access to antiretroviral therapy, to get 15 million people onto life-saving treatment by 2015, and to halve tuberculosis deaths in people living with HIV by 50 per cent by 2015.
“These bold new targets set by world leaders will accelerate our push to reduce the transmission of HIV,” said Assembly President Joseph Deiss. “The challenge that now remains is to implement these commitments and here leadership and mutual accountability are crucial.”
Member States also pledged to close the global resource gap for AIDS and work towards increasing funding to between $22 and $24 billion per year by 2015.
Dr. De Lay noted that the declaration clearly outlines the urgent need to increase access to HIV services for people most at risk of infection, including men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers.
The pledge to eliminate gender inequality, gender-based abuse and violence and to empower women and girls must be fulfilled without delay, he added.
This week also featured a number of side events on issues such as women, girls and HIV; faith-based action to prevent HIV; and AIDS and disability.
Addressing an interfaith prayer breakfast this morning, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro stressed how important the voices of religious leaders are in tackling the epidemic.
“You more than anyone can be forceful advocates against stigma. You are natural activists who can change attitudes. You know that protecting lives is as important as saving souls,” she said, urging leaders to speak out, end marginalization and make it clear that their houses of worship are open to all people coping with AIDS.
One of the events that occurred this week that Mr. De Lay described as “momentous” was the launch of a global plan to eliminate new HIV infections in children by 2015, which is intended to stop the 370,000 new HIV infections in children which are currently happening every year and to keep mothers alive.
The other was the adoption by the Security Council of a new resolution that seeks to protect peacekeepers and the communities that they interact with, as well as help end violence against women in conflict.
Q: The declaration speaks of several medical breakthroughs. What do you think of them?
AG: We don't consider that the newer methods are necessarily breakthroughs. For example, male circumcism is recommended in countries with a high prevalence of HIV. And yet the document does not contain language of how important it is not to have sex until all is fully healed. They don't recognize how important it is that the projects to provide that particular method take into account how these men before and after the procedure relate to women, how they have sex and with whom. The research was biased in the beginning in not looking at what happens to women when you offer intervention for men.
Q: And how about the new studies on early intervention of Antiretroviral drugs (ARV) to reduce transmission, which are welcomed as a major breakthrough?
An important development is using ARV treatment much earlier in a person's life in order to reduce the amount of virus in the body. Therefore the person will be less able to transmit the virus to someone else and you can use treatment as prevention. In this document, it is treated as a miracle breakthrough. We don't look at it that way. Probably about half the people in the world who are living with HIV don't know it. You are most infectious right after you have been infected. But at that time you have no symptoms at all so why would you go forward with testing? So to think that a medicine, a drug, is going to end this epidemic when we don't even know how to get more people to come forward for testing -- is really foolish. But debates on how best to end the epidemic go on all the time -- how we should all be giving much more time to prevention. Yet this document ends up with four paragraphs -FOUR!-on prevention. Does that make much sense? No. Not in our book.
Q: Homosexuals and prostitutes were a big issue five years ago, even among some delegates from the Bush administration. Has this changed?
They are in the document for the first time. There was one paragraph that names the community of drug users, men who have sex with men and sex workers. That is very good. But this listing is used once only and then there is UN mumbo-jumbo in other paragraphs where you should have specific references about the kinds of interventions needed to reach this population and what they face in their lives. And there is nothing on human rights for these people (despite the UN secretary-general's speech).