Secretary-General, at General Assembly HIV/AIDS Review, Warns That Criminalizing Transmission Reduces Prevention Efforts while Reinforcing Stigma

16 June 2009

Secretary-General, at General Assembly HIV/AIDS Review, Warns That Criminalizing Transmission Reduces Prevention Efforts while Reinforcing Stigma

16 June 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the General Assembly HIV/AIDS Review, in New York today, 16 June:

This meeting comes during an intense period for global health, a top priority.  Yesterday, we convened a “Forum on Advancing Global Health in the Face of Crisis”.  I thank many of you for being part of that effort.

Last month in Geneva, I met once again with UN-Plus -- members of the UN staff who are living with HIV.  They were mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, colleagues and friends.  Living and working with dignity.  Facing adversity with courage.  I heard stories of hope and resolve.  And I said something I tell people everywhere.  HIV is not about “us versus them”.  It is about everyone.  There is no “them” -- only us, together.

That meeting was a reminder of what brings us here today -- the stories, the struggles, the real lives, difficulties and triumphs of women and men the world over.  That is the essence of my report before you.  It provides an update on developments in the AIDS response, and looks forward to the challenges ahead.

Three years ago, leaders gathered here to forge a landmark commitment.  They pledged their determination to achieve the goal of universal access to comprehensive HIV prevention services, treatment, care and support by 2010.  We are seeing encouraging progress in that global effort.  I would like to point to four promising areas.

First, commitment.  More than 110 countries have established clear national targets for universal access.  Many countries are making headway towards these targets, and in some cases have already reached them.

Second, prevention.  In 14 African countries surveyed, we have seen a decrease in the percentage of young pregnant women living with HIV.  Nine countries have achieved the 25 per cent reduction in HIV prevalence called for in the 2001 Declaration of Commitment.

Third, treatment.  Over a period of just five years, there has been a tenfold increase in the provision of antiretroviral drugs to those in need.  That has contributed to the first decline in the number of annual AIDS deaths since the epidemic was first recognized nearly 30 years ago.

Fourth, resources.  Financing for HIV programmes in low- and middle-income countries has continued to increase, reaching $13.7 billion in 2008.   Building on the momentum, the United States Government’s PEPFAR initiative and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria have started leveraging AIDS funding to strengthen health systems in some of the neediest places.

This shows what global solidarity, cooperation and commitment can achieve.  Yet there are still nearly five new infections for every two people put on treatment.  Now is not the time to falter.  The economic crisis should not be an excuse to abandon commitments -- it should be an impetus to make the right investments that will yield benefits for generations to come.

A vigorous and effective response to the AIDS epidemic is integrally linked to meeting global commitments to reduce poverty, prevent hunger, lower childhood mortality and protect the health and well-being of women.  But to achieve the goal of universal access, barriers to progress need to be overcome.  Not just in battling the disease, but also in confronting obstacles that society puts in the way.

The fight against AIDS also requires us to attack diseases of the human spirit -- prejudice, discrimination, stigma.  The latest estimates show that about one third of this Organization’s Member States still have no law in place to prohibit HIV-related discrimination.  In many countries where such laws exist, they are inadequately enforced.  At the same time, legal frameworks institutionalize discrimination against groups most at risk and against vulnerable populations.

In recent years, a growing number of countries have taken steps to criminalize HIV transmission.  In theory, this has been done to prevent the spread of infection.  In practice, it has done the opposite -- reducing the effectiveness of HIV prevention efforts by reinforcing the stigma.  Such measures send the message that people living with HIV are a danger to society.  We must instead encourage tolerance, compassion and inclusion.

I call on all Governments to review their legal frameworks to ensure compliance with the human rights principles on which a sound AIDS response is based.  This is not solely a medical or scientific challenge.  It is a moral challenge, too.  Let us find the wisdom and courage for bold action on all these fronts.  That is the only way to address this challenge in all its complexity and breadth.

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