NEW YORK, 13 June 2011 (PLUSNEWS) - The United Nations High-Level Meeting on AIDS was nothing if not bold. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a global commitment to eliminate AIDS by 2020. "That is our goal - zero new infections, zero stigma and zero AIDS-related deaths," Ban said to a round of applause at the UN General Assembly last week in New York.
The three-day event, attended by heads of state, civil society groups, AIDS organizations and activists from more than 30 countries, coincided with the 30th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS and was dominated by discussions on the importance of increasing access to treatment.
The summit - from 8 to 10 June - concluded with the adoption of a declaration that by 2015 seeks to double the number of people on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to 15 million, end mother-to-child transmission of HIV, halve tuberculosis-related deaths in people living with HIV, and increase preventive measures for the "most vulnerable populations".
"This Declaration is strong, the targets are time-bound and set a clear and workable roadmap, not only for the next five years, but beyond," said Joseph Deiss, President of the General Assembly in a statement. "UN Member States have recognized that HIV is one of the most formidable challenges of our time and have demonstrated true leadership through this Declaration in their commitments to work towards a world without AIDS."
The money to achieve these aims is still a major issue, but the document is vague on where it will come from - about US$10 billion is spent each year, and UNAIDS says another $6 billion will be required.
Countries agreed to increase AIDS-related spending to reach between $22 billion and $24 billion in low- and middle-income countries by 2015.
"To say that adequate funding is critical to the success of our HIV and AIDS response is an understatement," Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said. "Many countries, including mine, can neither achieve the targets we set for ourselves ten years ago, nor the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals], without the support of our development partners. While appreciating their assistance, I would like to seize this opportunity to urge them to make every effort to redeem their promises in view of the proximity of 2015."
During his talk at a session to launch the global plan to eliminate new HIV infections in babies, former US President Bill Clinton discussed the importance of coordination among governmental agencies and other bodies, and the overhead costs in assisting HIV-positive people. He noted that many UN conferences have failed to achieve the goals they set for themselves, but hoped this time would be different. "This is something we can do," he said.
Outside the hall picket signs demanded urgent action. "We are at a crossroads," said activist Larry Bryant, who has been living HIV for 25 years. "World leaders are wavering in their commitment to combat AIDS just as we are turning the tide in the fight."
Michelle Childs, policy/advocacy director of the Access Campaign at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), attacked what she called "double-speak" - free-trade agreements between the developed world and poor countries that "are creating further barriers to price-busting generic competition and threaten access to affordable newer medicines", she said.
"Countries are making promises to treat AIDS in one meeting, and working hard to keep [medicine] prices out of reach behind closed doors in other meetings," she alleged.
"The whole AIDS summit will have been a farce if we don't see real plans to ramp up treatment so we can get ahead of the wave of new infections," said Tido von Schoen-Angerer, executive director of the MSF's treatment campaign.
Another issue was the vexing matter of sexual morality, which prevents some countries and participants from supporting access to sexual and reproductive health services, and women- and girl-centred approaches to HIV/AIDS, such as the combination intervention that includes female condoms, said Serra Sippel, president of the Centre for Health and Gender Equity in Washington.
"Have no doubt that we will lose this fight if we do not address women's rights directly," she said. "Women live at the intersection of disease and injustice, and as long as we're unwilling to address that, HIV is winning."
As a consequence of a push from the Vatican, Islamic nations and conservatives in the US, the summit largely skirted issues surrounding men who have sex with men, sex workers and drug users.
Aditi Sharma, who works with the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition in Pune, India, was quoted as saying: "It's the same old horse-trading on human rights and sovereignty - 30 years into the epidemic, you have the key populations barely mentioned."
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