Momentum Builds for UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS
for Action Sets Stage
for Government Negotiations This Week
New York (21 May 2001) - Preparations for the United Nations Special Session on HIV/AIDS, to be held in New York on 25-27 June 2001, are gathering momentum as the key outcome document is moved up the ladder. Government delegates are meeting in New York today for a week-long intensive round of negotiations.
The talks this week will seek agreement on a revised draft of the "Declaration of Commitment" that is expected to be adopted at the Special Session. The draft was prepared by the Session co-facilitators, Ambassador Penny Wensley of Australia and Ambassador Ibra Deguène Ka of Senegal, based on informal consultations that began in February.
So far, over twenty heads of State or Government have confirmed their plans to attend the Special Session, reflecting the importance being given to the global epidemic by countries worldwide.
The Special Session aims, through the adoption of the Declaration, to galvanize a global commitment to tackle the AIDS crisis. The Declaration is likely to outline specific targets for achieving effective leadership and coordination, alleviating the social and economic impact of the epidemic, preventing the spread of the disease, ensuring the availability of care and support, and mobilizing resources.
Looking to the negotiations, Ambassador Wensley commented, "The HIV/AIDS epidemic is a global crisis and urgent and unprecedented action, involving unique partnerships, is needed to stop it. This requires both a solid political commitment as well as determined mobilization of resources. Without these commitments, we will have little hope of holding back an epidemic that continues to spread and to place not just individuals, but communities and entire countries at grave risk."
A Call for Action
Interest in the Special Session has been building rapidly. In Washington last week, US President George Bush pledged US$200 million for a global fund proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to fight AIDS and other infectious diseases. The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that a major increase in funding is needed to bring total annual spending on AIDS in low and middle income countries to US$7-10 billion in about five years.
A few days earlier, speaking to the Council on Foundations in Philadelphia, the Secretary-General reiterated his call for action on AIDS, detailing the five clear objectives he had stated at the end of April in Abuja, Nigeria, at a special summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
Ambassador Ka, who helped draft the Declaration adopted at Abuja, commented: "The Abuja summit provided an important input to the Special Session by raising the profile of AIDS to that of national emergency continent-wide. One of its key outcomes was a pledge from African governments to allocate at least 15% of their national budgets to health."
At the Abuja meeting, devoted specifically to the exceptional challenges posed by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, African leaders collectively declared AIDS a state of emergency for Africa. They committed to increasing their health budgets and to using incentives to reduce the price of drugs and other health services.
In Abuja, the Secretary-General called on African leaders to attend the Special Session in New York in person and to achieve five specific objectives:
· to halt and reverse the spread of HIV, especially among young people;
· to stop the transmission of HIV from mother to child;
· to put care and treatment within everyone's reach;
· to deliver scientific breakthroughs; and
· to protect those made most vulnerable by the epidemic, especially AIDS orphans.
These objectives, said the Secretary-General, will be achieved only if national leaders in all countries make clear political and financial commitments, local communities are involved, women are empowered to protect themselves and their children, care and treatment are available to all, and additional funds are forthcoming.
Civil society input
Civil society groups - including activists, service organizations, people living with HIV/AIDS, and the private sector - are playing an important role in preparing for the Special Session. A number of events have already taken place, including national and international meetings by non-governmental organizations and others to comment on the draft Declaration of Commitment. Most recently, a meeting of business councils organized by the Global Business Council on HIV/AIDS took place on 9 May in Johannesburg. During the negotiations in New York this week, parallel sessions by civil society are being held on 21 and 22 May, and a dialogue session between civil society and governments is planned for the evening of 21 May.
In February, an initial dialogue session involving non-governmental organizations and the private sector reiterated the importance of multisectoral partnerships and of civil society participation in the Special Session as well as the leadership demonstrated by these groups in the response to the AIDS epidemic.
In addition, an electronic forum was established to support civil society participation in the Special Session and comments posted there were collated into a report and submitted to Member States.
The Special Session was convened by the UN General Assembly in November 2000 with the goal of intensifying international action to fight HIV/AIDS and to mobilize the resources needed.
Andrew Shih, UNAIDS, tel (212) 584-5012
Anne Winter, UNAIDS, mobile (41-79) 213-4312
Pragati Pascale, UN Dept. of Public Information
tel (212) 963-6870, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org