Energy, Activism of Civil Society Crucial to Global Progress against HIV/AIDS, Speakers Say, as General Assembly Holds Hearings Ahead of High-Level Meeting

8 April 2011
GA/11067

Energy, Activism of Civil Society Crucial to Global Progress against HIV/AIDS, Speakers Say, as General Assembly Holds Hearings Ahead of High-Level Meeting

8 April 2011
General Assembly
GA/11067
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fifth General Assembly

Informal Interactive Hearing

AM & PM Meetings

Energy, Activism of Civil Society Crucial to Global Progress against Hiv/Aids,

Speakers Say, as General Assembly Holds Hearings Ahead of High-Level Meeting

Three Panel Discussion Held On:  Enhancing Community-Level Access;

A New Generation of National Partnerships; and Synergies among Global Movements

Thirty years into the AIDS epidemic, and 10 years after the landmark General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, it was clear that the energy and activism of civil society had been crucial to progress against the epidemic, and Governments and civil society must forge stronger partnerships to adapt the global response to quickly changing realities on the ground, the General Assembly was told today, as it convened an informal interactive hearing with civil society.

Chaired by General Assembly President Joseph Deiss (Switzerland) — and organized with the participation of people living with HIV — the day-long event brought together a diverse mix of non-governmental organizations, faith-based organizations and the private sector, as well as Member States and other observers to weigh in on issues to be tackled at the Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on AIDS, which will be held from 8 to 10 June in New York.

Opening the informal hearing, Mr. Deiss recalled that, five years ago, the Assembly had set the ambitious goal of achieving universal access to AIDS treatment, care and support by 2010.  That goal had motivated stakeholders and provided a clear target for their work.  But, the 2010 deadline had passed and “it is time to hold ourselves accountable to our own commitments,” he asserted.

Progress had been made, he said, noting a significant increase in the number of people able to access treatment and a 20 per cent drop in the rate of new infections since 2001.  In Africa, more than 30 countries had stabilized or reduced infection rates.  But, despite those gains, millions of people still awaited treatment.  To achieve results, actors from different sectors of society must join forces to guide and monitor the AIDS response beyond 2011.  The engagement of civil society and the private sector were indispensable to developing the legal, policy and other aspects of the global AIDS response.

“We are here today because of you,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in opening remarks.  “Because of your energy, there has been progress in preventing the spread of HIV.  Because of your activism, millions of people are getting treatment.”  Indeed, civil society understood that all Governments had a duty to respond to the epidemic with compassion and, in the process, had blazed a trail for cooperation on the Millennium Development Goals.  People living with HIV should be at the forefront of that movement.

“This year is a moment of truth in the global AIDS response,” he said.  Funding had flatlined.  Five people were infected with HIV every minute of every day and one in seven of them was a child.  Moreover, the 2010 deadline had passed and new goals must be set.  His report urged meeting several targets:  halve the sexual transmission of HIV; provide treatment for 13 million people; stop all mother-to-child transmission; halve the number of tuberculosis deaths among HIV-affected people; support children orphaned and affected by AIDS; and halve the number of countries with HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay or residence.

In all such work it was critical to end stigma, he said.  Laws that discriminated against people with HIV and AIDS were unjust and completely counter-productive in terms of public health.  While Governments were working to address that problem, civil society’s input could boost their efforts.  “That is why I need you,” he said.  “I am not only asking you to act — I am pledging to take action myself,” by personally urging Governments to bring the world closer to the ultimate goals of no new infections, no more stigma and no AIDS-related deaths.

Echoing those thoughts Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, said:  “we cannot — we will not — get there without you.”  Today’s informal hearing was a major part of the preparations for the high-level event and, over the last year, a series of consultations on universal access had been conducted across the world.

Indeed, the most effective strategies had been designed and implemented in communities by communities, he said, urging civil society to engage at global, national and local levels, remain responsive to diverse situations and “hold yourselves and Governments accountable.”  Civil societies built bridges among diverse constituencies, and he encouraged their deeper involvement in resourcing and planning.

The AIDS response was undergoing a transformation, he said, tearing down silos and coming out of isolation.  By way of example, he said “crowd sourcing” — outsourcing tasks to a large group of people through an open call — was a way to gather ideas, volunteers and money.  Not all the best ideas came from the top and the linkages created today would allow for a more open future.  “Do your little bit of good where you are,” he said, which, when put together with others, would overwhelm the world.

Jeanne Gapiya, Association Nationale de Soutien aux Séropositifs et aux Malades du SIDA (ANSS) in Burundi, who had been living with HIV for 25 years, recalled the struggles of the first three decades.  Today’s global AIDS response had grass-roots origins and had passed on to high-level politics, foundations and other larger partners.  While the goal of ensuring universal access by 2010 had not been met, it had given a strong impetus to the global response.  Much had been learned about the limits of generic interventions, which should instead be targeted to the most at-risk populations.

She called on rich countries to help poor ones, noting that a tax on financial transactions could generate an estimated $200 to $300 million annually to be used to ensure universal access to treatment.  That plan could be an outcome for the upcoming Group of 20 (G-20) summit.  Further, the problem of those in power who refused to face the AIDS crisis must be addressed.  To accomplish such goals, world leaders must consider civil society not as adversaries, but as partners.  That might not come easily, but all actors must remain committed, realistic and open.

The day also featured three panel discussions designed to draw out ideas on three broad themes. The first panel — on “Enhancing Community-level Access” — was moderated by Mark Schoofs of the Wall Street Journal, and featured presentations by:  Eric Goosby, Global AIDS Coordinator for United States; Chris Hughes, Co-founder of Facebook and Executive Director of Jumo.com; Pardamean Napitu, Co-founder of Indonesia Social Changes Organization; and Christopher Senyonjo of the Saint Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation in Uganda.

During the discussion, civil society participants stressed that stigma was still very much an issue for people affected by HIV/AIDS and communities must band together to change mindsets. Some countries still had not embraced proven HIV technologies, some said, and there was a dire need to reduce harm among the most vulnerable populations. Further, there were people in need of treatment than there was funding available, other speakers said. They were frustrated at the “non-strategic” way scant resources were being spent and asked how to structure and fund community-based strategies, especially by using technology, and in reaching out to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations in developing countries.

The second panel on “A New Generation of National Partnerships: Diversity in Dialogue” and moderated by David Puente of CNN — featured presentations by:  Michel D. Kazatchkine, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (France); Sunil Pant, Constituent Assembly Nepal, Founder of Blue Diamond Society (Nepal); Natasha Leonchuk, East Europe and Central Asia Union of PLWH (Ukraine); and Steave Nemande, Alternatives-Cameroun (Cameroon).

Throughout that discussion, a resounding call was heard for more effective inclusion of civil society in all levels of HIV/AIDS programming, planning, monitoring and evaluation.  A range of views was expressed by representatives of HIV-affected men who have sex with men, transgender persons, women, youth, caregivers and persons with disabilities.  If Governments, the private sector and civil society did not work together, gains would be lost.

The third panel — on “Synergies among Global Movements:  Opportunities for Shared Action” — also moderated by Mr. Schoofs, featured the following panellists:  Agnes Binagwaho, Permanent Secretary to the Minister of Health in Rwanda; Veronica Cenac, Caribbean Vulnerable Communities; Manuella Donato, Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS; Jeffrey Sachs, The Earth Instiutte at Columbia University; Kim Nichols, African Services Committee; Ana Isabel Nieto Gómez, HIV/AIDS National Program; and Anders Nordström, Ambassador, HIV/AIDS of Sweden.

In discussion, calls were made for stronger Government commitment to the fight against HIV and AIDS, and specifically that national legal and social policies not hinder international efforts.  In response to a question on fundraising, Ms. Binagwaho suggested cutting the overhead of non-governmental organizations and using those funds to boost access to AIDS treatment.  Mr. Sachs said some countries with financial overflow could contribute more funds to the movement, while Ms. Cenac issued a call to “put the funding in the hands of those doing the work”.  Other speakers emphasized the need to identify new sources of funding for the global AIDS response. While acknowledging that need, Ms. Nichols also called for innovative ways to use existing resources to treat at least 20 million people by 2015.

In closing remarks, President Deiss said a summary of today’s informal hearings would be prepared and distributed.

Also delivering closing remarks were Maged El Syed Rabey, Program Coordinator of Friends of Life Organization, and Jan Beagle Deputy Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.