|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Upcoming General Assembly High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS
World leaders attending this week’s General Assembly High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS must make bold commitments to reachthe shared goal of zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths, as the lives of all those living with or affected by the disease weighed in the balance, Assembly President Joseph Deiss (Switzerland) said at a Headquarters press conference today.
He said the three-day Meeting, running from 8 to 10 June, presented a monumental opportunity to chart the course of the global response to AIDS for the next decade, and to show every person affected by HIV and AIDS that “we can — and we do — deliver as one”. Ten years after the landmark 2001 General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, “our need now is to adapt continuously as the epidemic transforms”.
Universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support had become more important than ever, he said, describing it as a matter of social justice and human security. Stigma hurt not only individuals but entire communities and economies, the Assembly President noted. “People living with and affected by HIV cannot be kept on the outside. They have to be at the centre of the response,” he emphasized, adding that understanding their perspectives and experiences was essential to ending the epidemic.
Negotiations on a final declaration for the Meeting were ongoing, he said, calling on all States to agree on a meaningful text. How could they otherwise explain to those living with or affected by HIV/AIDS that they had been unable to reach a consensus? he asked, pointing out that failure to issue a declaration would push the fight back by years, and expressing his conviction that all Member States were aware of their responsibility.
Providing historical context, Paul De Lay, Deputy Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), recalled that 30 years ago, AIDS had been known as “the shunned disease”. Feeding off exclusion, it had been considered a death sentence, but today AIDS had united the world in a way that no other disease had done, by allowing people to speak out for the human rights of the most vulnerable. It had connected the global North to the South in the mobilization of resources, he said, pointing out that more than 6 million people now had access to life-saving treatment and fewer were dying.
“This is a decisive moment in the history of AIDS,” he continued, stressing that clear targets were needed to ensure that the 9 million people needing treatment would have access. In order to transform the AIDS response, more scientific innovation, political leadership, country ownership and predictable resources would be needed, he said. “We cannot hide behind words and false promises.”
Tetyana Afanasiadi, a 32-year-old civil society representative from Ukraine, said she used drugs and had been living with HIV for 13 years. Concerned about support for harm-reduction programmes for drug users, many of whom were women, she said she wondered whether there would be sustainable access to prevention programmes or if community-based organizations would be able to provide services with support from the Government. “I think it’s extremely important for participants to know how drug users survive,” she emphasized.
What was needed was political will, she said, calling for universal access to antiretroviral drugs, and to treatment for tuberculosis, hepatitis and drug dependency, including for men who had sex with men, commercial sex workers and all other vulnerable populations. She said she wanted her son one day to see her free of criminal prosecution and full of strength and dignity. “Global leaders can help me by exerting their political will, which is so important for citizens like me,” she added.
Responding to questions, Ms. Afanasiadi said that besides political will, Member States must also recognize HIV/AIDS as a priority, a step that would then allow attention to focus on prevention, treatment, diagnostics and other essential programmes.
Adding to that, Mr. Deiss, who will preside over the Meeting’s opening and closing plenary sessions, underscored the need for 100 per cent access to treatment, voicing hope that States would be able to measure the importance of their commitment. There should be no competition between AIDS-related objectives and the Millennium Development Goals, he emphasized.
In response to another question, Mr. De Lay said the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was one of the two largest funders of the AIDS response and the leading responder on tuberculosis and malaria. “Quite honestly, it is never fully funded,” he pointed out, saying that funding was based on the number of countries submitting grant proposals. The eleventh round of submissions would be held in August, he noted, expressing hope that sufficient funds would come in to ensure they received financing.
Asked about the relationship between AIDS and international security, Mr. De Lay replied that today’s Security Council deliberations represented a sophisticated understanding of how the disease affected political and social stability, and further, how peacekeepers could be “agents of positive change”. They could deal with the knowledge of HIV as well as the problem of sexual violence, which had become a major part of conflict, he said.
“It really is a security issue,” Mr. Deiss added, noting that the Council had taken up the matter because it was a cross-border threat. It was also an area in which both the Assembly and the Council could contribute.
Responding to another question, Mr. De Lay clarified that, while the draft declaration was not a United Nations one, UNAIDS had provided technical support regarding transmission and prevalence, for example, and had been available to answer questions about those most vulnerable to HIV transmission. The goal was to build on the “courageous” 2001 agenda, he said. “We hope this will be as courageous, set new targets and ensure that human rights aspects — vulnerability and access to services — will be addressed.”
On a related point, he said stigma and discrimination impeded access to knowledge and services, but there was now an understanding of the types of programmes required to combat such attitudes, and they must be fully budgeted in national responses. It did not take a lot of money, he noted.
On another note, he said eliminating infant infection was an extremely worthwhile goal, as well as a technically and financially feasible one. Moreover, it provided an entry point for addressing a range of issues, from safe prenatal and post-partum care for women and their infants to the severity of AIDS as a cause of maternal mortality. The disease was responsible for 18 per cent of maternal deaths, notably in East and Southern Africa, he pointed out.
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