|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Médecins Sans Frontières on Stakes for Treatment
As General Assembly Holds High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS
Meeting in New York this week to craft a blueprint for the next decade’s global response to HIV/AIDS, Governments must recommit to bringing life-saving treatment to all in need, supporting an ambitious treatment target and injecting $6 billion annually into efforts to close the treatment gap, experts from Médecins Sans Frontières said at a Headquarters press conference today.
Referring to negotiations on an outcome document for the General Assembly High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS — to be held from 8 to 10 June — Sharonann Lynch, HIV/AIDS Policy Adviser with the international medical humanitarian aid organization’s Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, said Governments would be asked today to endorse a text committing them to placing 15 million people on treatment by 2015, thereby helping to avert more than 7 million unnecessary deaths by 2020.
“Treatment is prevention,” she said, noting that an additional $6 billion would be needed annually to meet the target, which was “certainly feasible”, despite the troubling trend that had seen Governments reduce funding since 2008. “We won’t be able to mount a credible response if there are not the resources for it,” she emphasized, pressing developed countries to stop pushing developing nations to adopt intellectual property rights provisions stronger than those outlined in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Such efforts had complicated the provision of HIV treatment, she pointed out, noting that there was there was no excuse not to fund treatment, with antiretroviral therapy now only 1 per cent of its original price.
“It’s very important to start people on treatment before they get very sick,” said Tido von Schoen-Angerer, Executive Director of the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. It was a great paradox that the Governments calling for more efficiency were also pushing trade policies that drove up drug prices, he said, pointing out that prices for the most commonly used treatments had fallen more than 99 per cent since 2000.
He went on to recall that a scientific breakthrough in May had shown that a person taking treatment was 96 per cent less likely to transmit HIV to others. “That is really dramatic,” he said, adding that Governments participating in this week’s Summit could turn that science into policy and help reduce the number of new infections from 2.5 million in 2009 to 1 million annually by 2015. With the right actions, the epidemic’s path could be broken, he added.
Rounding out the discussion, Nonkosi Khumalo, Chair of the South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign, described the stigma that HIV/AIDS carried on the continent. People had been killed for disclosing their HIV status, kicked out of their families and marginalized from their communities. She said that, in following the negotiations over the last three weeks, she had been concerned about how little respect African Governments paid to human rights. Delegations were fighting over whether to include in the text references to sex workers or men who have sex with men, she noted.
Reading between the fault lines, she said, families were important in Africa, but they had also been ravaged by HIV and Governments must remember that they lived on a continent where millions of people had died or been orphaned by AIDS. They must respond to the epidemic on the basis of evidence, not what they believed to be culturally or morally right, she stressed, noting in that context that religion had been pushed as an agenda, with people believing that as Christians, for example, they were immune to HIV or AIDS. “That’s completely wrong,” she emphasized, appealing to the African Group to revise its thinking on human rights, which were universal and central to the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Asked which countries were taking a positive approach to HIV/AIDS, Ms. Khumalo said that while South Africa was progressive, the African Group had not been pushing hard enough. As Chair, Swaziland could have done a better job of accommodating human rights aspects as much as possible, she said, adding that Uganda, Malawi and Egypt — the “biggest culprit”, which was “in an unholy alliance with the Holy See” — were among countries that needed to “update” their thinking. Positions on religion and family had been reinforced by Family Watch International, which had provided texts for Governments to push in their negotiations, she said.
“That for me is criminal,” she declared, underscoring that, while sovereignty must be respected, it was wrong to allow such inputs to dominate the international discussion. There had been no change in Egypt’s position since recent events had unfolded in that country, she pointed out, questioning the source of its instructions, since there was no one in the Government to provide them.
Ms. Lynch added that Member States were acting out of self-interest in the negotiations. Conservative voices in European Governments were working to reduce the overall ambition of the talks. It was to be hoped that the European Union would throw its support behind the financial targets, otherwise it would appear that the bloc wished to be “let off the hook”.
* *** *For information media • not an official record