In General Assembly, Secretary-General Describes "Cause for Hope' in Fight against HIV/AIDS, But Warns Redoubled Effort Needed to "Win the Race' against Epidemic
Taking that message to heart, the Assembly adopted a consensus decision welcoming recommendations in the Secretary-General's report entitled "United to end AIDS: achieving the targets of the 2011 Political Declaration", as input for consideration in preparation for its special event on the Millennium Development Goals in 2013
(Media-Newswire.com) - While efforts to halt new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths had steadily intensified in the last year, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pressed Governments in the General Assembly today to enhance prevention measures, provide greater access to treatments and step up badly needed investment for AIDS — as agreed at last year’s High-level meeting on HIV and AIDS — “so that we can win the race” against the epidemic.
Taking that message to heart, the Assembly adopted a consensus decision welcoming recommendations in the Secretary-General’s report entitled “United to end AIDS: achieving the targets of the 2011 Political Declaration”, as input for consideration in preparation for its special event on the Millennium Development Goals in 2013, and in discussions on formulating the post-2015 development agenda.
In his report, Mr. Ban notes that, while there is “cause for hope and optimism” in the response to HIV and AIDS, many challenges remain. Substantial access gaps persist for key services, with especially difficult obstacles experienced by high-risk populations. Punitive laws, gender inequality, violence against women and other human rights violations continue to undermine national responses. Of special concern is the first-ever decline in HIV funding in 2010, which could jeopardize the global community’s capacity to close access gaps and sustain progress in the coming years. “Efforts must be refocused to achieve real results and end a global epidemic of historic proportions,” he wrote.
The “bold” Political Declaration adopted at last year’s high-level meeting outlined clear targets to stop new infections, stamp out discrimination and end AIDS-related deaths, Mr. Ban said in opening remarks. In such work, prevention was critical. The number of new HIV infections must be cut by 1 million by 2015, which required reaching out to those most at risk: sex workers; men who have sex with men; people who inject drugs; women; and youth. To treat 15 million people by 2015, as pledged, the number of people receiving treatment must double.
Finally, all countries must strengthen existing financial mechanisms, he said, including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. International investment for AIDS had dropped 13 per cent from 2009 to 2010 and he urged States to make the struggle against AIDS integral to their vision of the future they wished to see. “We cannot slow down,” he stressed.
Echoing those comments, Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser said that, while the world was “riding a wave of renewed hope and accelerating progress against HIV”, critical challenges remained. Every effort must be made to ensure that commitments made in 2011 were implemented, so that the course of the epidemic could be redirected and that future costs to society could be averted. In remarks delivered by Vice-President Jean-Francis Zinsou, of Benin, he said it was critical to support the integration of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support into relevant health and development programmes, including those for reproductive health, gender equality and non-communicable diseases.
He said the post-2015 development agenda hinged on a strong vision that united all parts of the social sector: health, education and social protection among them. Achieving the 10 targets set out in 2011 was a journey towards a single outcome. The international community must act strategically and effectively to achieve the vision of zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. “This is a world for all of us,” he declared.
When the floor was opened for debate, speakers from more than 30 countries reaffirmed their commitment to ending the HIV epidemic, pledging to focus on high-risk populations and to build shared responsibility for achieving targets outlined in the 2011 Political Declaration. Many pointed to national and regional advances, including South Africa’s representative, who said his country had “shifted the way we think about the response to the epidemic and recognized the need to expand beyond the health sector”. South Africa’s new National Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS and Tuberculosis for 2012-2016 marked the first time the country had integrated those illnesses in the same plan.
Several others described the daunting challenges ahead, particularly for countries in sub-Saharan Africa and other low-income areas, where Governments continued to cope with the heavy burdens of HIV/AIDS, but had scant room in their stretched budgets to make major investments public health. Poverty, inadequate health facilities, the high cost of medicine and unsafe sexual behaviour were just some of the factors hindering progress.
To make a difference, Governments in concentrated or high-prevalence epidemic countries must put in place strategies that focused on the needs of high-risk populations, some said, including drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men. Vertical mother-to-child transmission could be eliminated if pregnant women living with HIV and their newborns were provided with antiretroviral prophylaxis during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding.
On that point, Brazil’s representative argued that access to medicine was a huge challenge and that public health must always prevail over commercial interests. “Flexibilities” in the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights ( TRIPs ) Agreement provided an effective tool that must be used to make HIV programmes financially sustainable.
Australia’s delegate insisted that punitive laws against people living with or at risk of HIV must be repealed. Wastage from ineffective programming and governance structures must be expelled and both prevention and treatment programmes must be scaled up. Overall, more political resolve was needed to follow through on past commitments. “Complacency is not an option,” he declared.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Botswana ( on behalf of the African States ), Suriname ( on behalf of Caribbean Community ( CARICOM ) ), Cambodia ( on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations ( ASEAN ) ), Angola ( on behalf of the Southern African Development Community ( SADC ) ), Canada, Luxembourg, United States, Lesotho, Ukraine, Russian Federation, Indonesia, Kenya, Cuba, Thailand, India, Kazakhstan, Gabon, Mexico, Algeria, Norway, El Salvador, Zambia, Viet Nam, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
A representative of the European Union delegation also spoke.
Iran’s delegate spoke in explanation of position after action.
The General Assembly will reconvene at a date and time to be announced.
The General Assembly met today to review progress on implementation of the Declaration and Commitment on HIV/AIDS and the United Nations Political Declaration on combating the scourge. It had before it the report of the Secretary-General entitled “United to End AIDS: Achieving the Targets of the 2011 Political Declaration” ( document A/66/757 ).
XX ( Benin ), Vice-President of the General Assembly, delivering a statement on behalf of the Assembly President, said that one year ago, at a high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS, the 193-member body had unanimously adopted a historic Political Declaration that “helped shape the end game of the AIDS crisis.” Member States had set clear targets to reduce HIV transmissions. Today, the Assembly had gathered to review progress to that end, and, he said he was struck by Member States’ commitment to realizing their shared goals and responsibilities. “This commitment has inspired a new unity of purpose; a resolve to focus on results, and an opportunity to carve out clear roles for Governments, donors, civil society and the United Nations,” he said.
“Today we are riding a wave of renewed hope and accelerating progress against HIV,” he continued, noting that the international community had achieved dramatic reductions in new infections in the hardest hit countries and among young people worldwide. The international community was also witnessing dramatic scaling up of treatment in low- and middle-income countries, “from thousands to millions in just a decade”. The AIDS response had had a profound impact on human health and development and had advanced the agendas of human rights, social justice and gender equality. This had helped to build more inclusive societies and had moved science forward in the service of the people.
Yet, critical challenges remained, he said, noting that HIV still disproportionately affected vulnerable populations. In addition, populations at higher risk still faced stigma and discrimination, which only fuelled the spread of the disease. “Funding is declining, diminishing the international community’s ability to sustain necessary progress,” he said, noting that today’s meeting was taking place three years before the 2015 deadline set by Member States in the Political Declaration. Every effort must be made to ensure that commitments that were made in 2011 were implemented so that the course of the epidemic could be re-directed and so that future costs to society could be averted.
“It is critical that we support the integration of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support into relevant health and development programmes,” he said, adding that such programmes included reproductive health, gender equality, and non-communicable disease response. The international community must also explore ways in which the increase in HIV prevention, treatment, care and support could be leveraged to strengthen not only high quality health services, but to respond to a range of health conditions and development challenges, such as food security, poverty and drug dependence. The international community must also use today’s meeting as an opportunity to reflect on the links between HIV/AIDS and the Millennium Development Goals.
He went on to say that the post-2015 global development agenda hinged on a strong vision that united all components of the social sector, including health, education, and social protection. Achieving the 10 targets set out in 2011 was a worthy and achievable aim. It was also a journey towards a single outcome. Built into the AIDS movement was the vast potential for global development that would be felt far beyond 2015. “It is up to every single one of us - Member States, civil society, private sector and individuals – to work together, to step up the campaign to implement the commitments made for a better tomorrow,” he said, adding that he international community must act strategically and effectively to achieve the vision of a zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. “This is a world for all of us,” he declared.
Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON recalled that one year ago this week, Governments, intergovernmental organizations, United Nations agencies and others had pledged to show “decisive, inclusive and accountable leadership” to reach the goal of an AIDS-free world. Their bold political declaration had clear targets to stop new infections, stamp out discrimination and end AIDS-related deaths.
Over the last year, efforts had intensified, he said, noting that just last week, he had helped to launch the Integrated Implementation Framework to track commitments to the Millennium Development Goals, including on HIV/AIDS. UN Women recently joined UNAIDS to help address how the virus impacted women and girls, and UNAIDS itself had expanded its activities around the world.
Recalling he had launched his five-year action agenda in January, pledging to reach the goal of ending all paediatric HIV infections, he said: “I am here to ask you to do even more so that we can win the race”.
“Prevention is critical,” he said. The number of new HIV infections must be cut by 1 million by 2015, which required reaching out to people at risk: sex workers, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, women and youth. Five million young people lived with HIV and each day, 3,000 more were infected. It was within our power to stop that spread and, armed with the right information, young people would do what was right for their health.
To treat 15 million people by 2015, as pledged last year, the number of people receiving treatment must double, he said. Patients must be diagnosed more quickly, therapies must be provided more efficiently and better medicines must be developed.
Further, women needed sexual and reproductive health services and HIV-positive mothers must have antiretroviral drugs, he said. Countries should support the Global Plan to Eliminate New HIV Infections among Children by 2015 and Keep Their Mothers Alive, as well as the “Every Woman, Every Child” initiative. Further, as had been pointed out at last year’s meeting, “stigma fuels HIV” and discrimination hampered efforts to respond to the epidemic. He urged countries to end restrictions and penalties for people living with HIV.
Pointing out that international investment for AIDS had dropped by 13 per cent from 2009 to 2010, he said: As we drive towards 2015,“we cannot slow down”. All countries must do their part by strengthening existing financial mechanisms, including the Global Fund, and making the most of all resources. “An AIDS-free generation is a generation that can help to end poverty,” he asserted. Ahead of the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, he urged countries to make the struggle against AIDS an integral part of the “campaign for the future we want.”
CHARLES THEMBANI NTWAAGAE ( Botswana ), speaking on behalf of the African group, said that his continent was the most affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. He said that the June 2011 Political Declaration provided a road map of key targets the international community could use to combat the scourge, including curbing new infections from sexual transmission and injection drug users and scaling-up funds for maternal and child health care. Over the past two years, African nations had stepped up their efforts to address the challenges posed by HIV/AIDS, with the rate of infection stabilizing and declining in some 22 countries. AIDS deaths were decreasing, as were incidents of mother-to-child transmissions. At the same time, infection rates on the whole continued to outpace treatment and care programmes. Also troubling was that HIV-infected persons in Africa still had to struggle to gain access to available treatments.
Stigma remained a major challenge, and African Governments were focusing on the role of the family and bolstering education, including sexual health education, as a way to reverse that trend. Still, he reiterated that overall, the lack of resources was the most challenging hurdle, and welcomed the call in the Political Declaration for scaling up funds for health care and to ensure access to medication. He also called for assistance to build the capacity of health care systems in Africa and other developing nations, as a shortage of adequately trained health care workers had proved to be a chronic impediment to efforts to effectively combat the spread of the disease.
HENRY MACDONALD ( Suriname ), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community ( CARICOM ), recalled that at the United Nations High-level Meeting on HIV and AIDS last year, States reaffirmed their commitments to ending the HIV epidemic, pledging to focus on high-risk populations and to build shared responsibility for achieving targets outlined in the political declaration. His region’s response to HIV and AIDS was articulated through the Pan Caribbean Partnership on HIV and AIDS and last year, countries reaffirmed their commitment to eliminating new infections among children, increasing access to care and treatment by 80 per cent and halving new infections.
The Caribbean had also led efforts to ensure that HIV and AIDS were retained as a key issue on the post-2015 development agenda, he said. CARICOM had taken the lead in raising awareness of the impact of non-communicable diseases on development by working to identify the policy and programmatic nexus between HIV and chronic, non-communicable diseases, in order to increase the efficiency of resource allocation. In such work, the underlying causes of risk and vulnerability must be systematically addressed, including gender equality, poverty, inequity and social inclusion. There was a regional consensus on the need to focus on vulnerable groups.
Indeed, CARICOM aimed to be the first region to eliminate mother-to-child HIV transmission, he said. CARICOM would continue working with the Global Fund to overcome excessive eligibility constraints and to access funding for targeted populations. Accelerating the human rights agenda around HIV also remained a priority. With support from the Global Fund, the Pan Caribbean Partnership on HIV and AIDS was working to implement an anti-discrimination legislative agenda. Model legislation had been considered by Ministers of Health, chief Parliamentary Councils, and would soon be examined by CARICOM Attorneys General.
SEA KOSAL ( Cambodia ), speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations ( ASEAN ), underlined his region’s efforts to eliminate the transmission of communicable diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Since the adoption of the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, regional countries were steadfast in their commitment to reverse the spread of new infections. At the nineteenth ASEAN Summit, held last year in Bali, Indonesia, States adopted the ASEAN Declaration of Commitment: Getting to Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination, Zero AIDS-Related Deaths, which sought to reduce HIV transmission by 50 per cent, eliminate new HIV infections among children, and scale-up antiretroviral treatment by 2015.
Further, the ASEAN Task Force on AIDS met in Bangkok last year, he said, and its first report on HIV, stated that an estimated 1.5 million people were living with HIV in the region. Thanks to a coordinated regional response, prevalence rates had dropped in Southeast Asia, and many ASEAN countries had reached their targets for treatment coverage. Despite such progress since 2001, two member States had seen a 25 per cent increase in new infections, and high prevalence among sex workers and their clients. As such, the Task Force supported fast-tracking accreditation for licensing to produce affordable generic antiretroviral drugs.
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