10 June 2021
Seventy-fifth Session, 77th Meeting (PM)

Current Battle to End COVID-19 Pandemic Must Not Cost War against HIV/AIDS, Speakers Warn General Assembly on Day Three of High-Level Meeting

Elton John Urges Countries to Learn from Past, Not Let Fear of HIV/AIDS Discourage Science, Rights-Based Policies That Leave No One Behind

Warning that the international community must not let its current battle against COVID-19 cost its war against HIV/AIDS, world leaders detailed national efforts to tackle the threat to public health posed by one virus despite the shocks reverberating from the other, as the General Assembly continued its high‑level meeting on HIV/AIDS today.

Elton John, Founder of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, in a pre-recorded video address, said that, 40 years ago, HIV/AIDS was met with denial, fear and blame, consequently spreading unchecked across countries and continents.  Advocating for science-based responses and rights-based laws and policies that leave no one behind, he called on world leaders to turn the high-level meeting’s Political Declaration adopted on Tuesday — which spells out measures to stop the disease in its tracks by 2030 — into bold, concrete action.

He also urged countries to “look beyond the fear that prompts us to judge or control others” and resist punishing people for who they love, encourage them to love safely and find the resources to make effective interventions universally available.  While humanity focuses on stopping the COVID-19 pandemic, it must not give up its fight against HIV/AIDS.

“Let us learn the lessons of the past and not repeat them,” he stressed.  Pointing to the imminent meeting between the Group of Seven (G7) countries, he called for investments in community-led organizations and health systems to defeat both AIDS and COVID-19 and better prepare for future pandemics.

In the debate that followed, health ministers and other senior officials from around the world championed the importance of science-driven approaches that respond to the needs of the most vulnerable in order to meet global targets for ending the threat HIV/AIDS poses to public health by 2030, despite the constraints imposed by COVID-19.

Olivier Véran, Minister for Solidarity and Health of France, warned that allowing the COVID-19 crisis to crowd out the global HIV/AIDS response would be catastrophic, calling for redoubled efforts to support the most vulnerable populations and defend human rights around the globe.  The current pandemic has not only compromised the provision of critical medical services and deepened existing inequality — it has led to a “dangerous questioning of the scientific word”.

Governments can use lessons learned from addressing the AIDS epidemic to inform their response to the current crisis, said Mereseini Wakolo Rakuita, Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation of Fiji, directing national efforts to preserve confidentiality, ensure adequate testing and contact‑tracing and communicate risk appropriately.  Despite Fiji’s progress in ending the AIDS epidemic, however, international support is needed as underlying drivers like inequality threaten national responses to both HIV/AIDS and COVID-19.

International support is particularly needed, stressed Guy Patrick Obiang Ndong, Minister for Health of Gabon, in developing countries, where the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has weakened national abilities to combat HIV/AIDS.  While the Government works to provide critical health services and combat gender inequality, the global response to HIV/AIDS will ultimately determine the international community’s success in achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Other countries took the floor to stress that the Political Declaration must be sensitive to national concerns and priorities.

Alymkadyr Beishenaliev, Minister for Health and Social Development of Kyrgyzstan, said that some of the measures proposed in the Declaration are not in line with national policy on sexual relations or the family.  While his country was the first in the Central Asia region to provide HIV services for certain vulnerable groups, the Government does not anticipate the legalization of sex work, drug use or same-sex marriage.

Abderrahmane Benbouzid, Minister for Health, Population and Hospital Reform of Algeria, concurred, urging that the important principle of State sovereignty be enshrined in all global agreements on HIV/AIDS.  Algeria, for its part, works to strengthen its fight against HIV in line with its own laws and priorities, addressing the needs of affected populations with national specificity.

At the close of the meeting, the Assembly also heard summaries of four of the five thematic panel discussions it convened over the course of its high-level meeting, in which participants underscored the need to invest in health systems, promote community leadership, end gender inequality and restore HIV services interrupted by COVID-19.

The meeting was then suspended.

Also speaking today were ministers and other senior officials from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Bhutan, Slovenia, Republic of Korea, Ukraine, Nauru, Mauritius, Germany, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, El Salvador, Chile, Bahrain, Sri Lanka, Bolivia, India, the United States, Angola, Azerbaijan, Chad, Djibouti, Mexico, Marshall Islands, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Maldives, Sweden, Guyana, Canada and the Russian Federation.

The Assembly will reconvene in plenary at 10 a.m., on Friday, 11 June, to take up elections of non-permanent members of the Security Council and take up the Council’s report as well as the confirmation of the appointment of the Secretary‑General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

It will then meet at 3 p.m. to resume the general debate on HIV/AIDS and close its high-level meeting on the topic.

General Debate

ST. CLAIR PRINCE, Minister for Health, Wellness and the Environment of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, welcomed the Assembly’s timely high-level meeting, which is being held amid a trying global context.  Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has recorded strong progress in reducing HIV infection rates and has eliminated mother-to-child transmission, an achievement which is currently undergoing certification by the World Health Organization (WHO).  It is considered a low-prevalence country thanks to its broadly available treatment, care and services.  However, he said, gaps remain.  “The COVID-19 and its devastating socioeconomic impact has reminded us that health is a global good,” he stressed, adding that marginalized communities remain vulnerable to HIV infection.  Going forward, the pressures of the pandemic must not be allowed to erode progress made in the long-term struggle to combat HIV/AIDS, he said.

LYONPO DECHEN WANGMO, Minister for Health of Bhutan, said ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 will require the world to come together as it did with COVID-19, putting into place resilient and sustainable health‑care systems that can stand up to future public health crises.  Bhutan is making good progress towards meeting the 90-90-90 target, of having 90 per cent of people living with HIV knowing their HIV status; 90 per cent of people who know their status on treatment; and 90 percent of people on treatment with suppressed viral loads, by 2030.  Also, it is on target to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B by 2023.  However, more needs to be done to bridge its current HIV case detection gap of 43 per cent.  One significant step by the Government this year was the decriminalization of homosexuality, she said, adding that Bhutan now provides universal access to HIV testing, treatment and care, free of charge.

JANEZ POKLUKAR, Minister for Health of Slovenia, acknowledging new challenges posed by COVID-19, called for more investment in health systems and public health to be prepared for new pandemics.  In his country, where the Government works in partnership with experts and civil society, the incidence of HIV is low and decreasing.  Fighting stigma and discrimination and promoting gender equality and human rights are integral parts of its AIDS strategy.  To eradicate AIDS as a public health threat, prevention, reproductive services and education should be accessible for all, he emphasized.

EUN KYEONG JEONG, Commissioner for the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency of the Republic of Korea, said that, since the 2001 Declaration, new HIV infections have declined by 37 per cent and AIDS-related deaths by 54 per cent.  The Republic of Korea has bolstered policies for providing free and anonymous testing, financial support for medical expenses and counselling for people living with HIV.  As the global rate of decline has slowed in recent years, he urged Governments to stand in strong solidarity to keep new infections and deaths under the targets, and to end all forms of HIV-related stigma and discrimination by 2025.  “We need to prioritize scaling up combination HIV prevention programmes,” he said, and strengthen early diagnosis and treatment. It is also essential to ensure access to evidence-based prevention programmes tailored to the characteristics of the epidemics for everyone who needs them.  He likewise called for global cooperation and shared accountability beyond the level seen before the current pandemic.

MERESEINI WAKOLO RAKUITA, Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation of Fiji, said that, despite the progress Fiji has made since 2016 in ending the AIDS epidemic, underlying drivers like inequality threaten not only the country’s HIV response, but how it reacts to other disease threats.  In addressing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Government is using lessons learned from dealing with the AIDS epidemic — including the importance of preserving confidentiality, ensuring adequate testing and contact tracing, and appropriately communicating risk — to direct its efforts to address the crisis.  While the Government is grappling with uneven progress due to underlying inequalities, it does provide free access to HIV treatment, and she called on the international community to support Fiji in escalating its efforts to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

VICTOR LIASHKO, Minister for Health of Ukraine, said that, in 2019, the Government adopted a new strategy for the national response to combat tuberculosis, HIV and hepatitis by 2030.  The strategy is built on achieving global goals and is based on the principles of human rights and gender equality.  The Government fully funds opioid substitution therapy, which benefits over 15,000 people, and antiretroviral therapy.  It recognizes the essential role of civil society in responding to AIDS.  In 2020 alone, the State funded $7.5 million for HIV prevention, care and support programmes under which 90 civil society organizations received Government contracts and provided services to more than 268,000 clients in key population groups.

ISABELLA DAGEAGO, Minister for Health of Nauru, said her country reported its first HIV case in 2014.  While its cases have been very low, the small nation with a population of 10,000 people faces high risk of HIV spreading rapidly within the community.  Despite the pandemic, other health services are undisrupted and national efforts are ongoing to ensure that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS remains low and under control.  Her country’s efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS hinges on prevention measures, early detection and control, awareness‑raising programmes, increasing testing capacities and integrating HIV screening into many of other health programmes, she said.

KAILESH KUMAR SINGH JAGUTPAL, Minister for Health and Wellness of Mauritius, said his Government is committed to end the spread of AIDS in the country by 2030 and address high HIV rates among people who inject drugs and transgender people, who account for 32 per cent and 28 per cent of the prevalence rate, respectively.  The rate remains at 1 per cent of the population at large.  Free rights-based services and transportation costs are offered to HIV patients across the island to improve universal health coverage in line with WHO recommendations.  Highlighting the excellent work of non-governmental organization partners, he said the Government devised integrated HIV services, and access to pre-exposure prophylaxis, a needle exchange programme and opioid substitution treatment, which reduced HIV transmission to 22 per cent from 32 per cent among those injecting drugs in 2020.  Nationwide efforts to prevent mother-to-child-transmission resulted in less than 1 per cent transmission in 2020.  As an essential health service and to mitigate the COVID-19 impact on the national HIV/AIDS response, the HIV and harm reduction services have not been interrupted during the lockdown periods.  To end AIDS by 2030, the Government aims to reinforce the multisectoral approach to address any existing inequalities or disparities in the HIV programmes without leaving anyone behind.

JENS SPAHN, Minister for Health of Germany, strongly welcomed the adoption of the Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS: Ending Inequalities and Getting on Track to End AIDS by 2030 and voiced his country’s commitment to its ambitious goals and agenda.  Recalling that Germany has made great strides in its national HIV/AIDS response over recent decades by employing a rights-based approach that engages and empowers young people and population groups that are at highest risk, he said schools in Germany provide comprehensive sexuality education and ensure access to sexual and reproductive health tools and services for all young people, especially girls.  For population groups at higher risk — including men who have sex with men, sex workers and people who use drugs — the Government ensures access to comprehensive prevention services, including low-threshold HIV/sexual transmitted infection testing, HIV treatment, pre-exposure prophylaxis and harm reduction interventions.  In addition, it provides financial support to strengthen and empower community-based and community-led organizations in the national response.  “Utilizing the 40 years of lessons learned from HIV, I encourage us all to show commitment and leadership to translate proven and successful approaches into our national policies,” he stressed, calling for unity to overcome the barriers to comprehensive HIV responses.

OLIVIER VÉRAN, Minister for Solidarity and Health of France, pledged that his country will remain fully mobilized towards achieving the goal of ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat.  Voicing resolute support for the main players in the global response — including the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), WHO, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and others — he said France contributed to the Global Fund replenishment conference and remains a leading contributor to international efforts, having contributed more than €2 billion over the last decade.  “The crisis related to the COVID-19 pandemic has, however, caused a dramatic setback to hard-won advances in global health, including HIV/AIDS,” he said, noting that it has led to the disruption of critical services to prevent, detect and treat HIV, particularly with regard to sexual and reproductive health and rights.  It has also led to an increase in physical and sexual violence against women; exacerbated social injustice and inequality; and led to a “dangerous questioning of the scientific word”.  Calling for redoubled efforts to support the most vulnerable populations and defend human rights around the globe, he warned that allowing COVID-19 or its repercussions to crowd out the global HIV/AIDS response would be catastrophic.  Among other things, it is crucial to continue pursuing scientific innovation, strengthening health systems and aiming for universal health coverage.

BOUNFENG PHOUMMALAYSITH, Minister for Health of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, said that his country has done much to keep its prevalence of HIV low, including through community testing, self-testing and improved access to services.  Domestic funding for antiretroviral drugs has been increased and a national action plan — closely aligned with the Global AIDS Strategy — put into place.  However, significant challenges remain, including a lack of funding and the impact of COVID-19 on services and resources.  Ending AIDS by 2030 will be possible only if countries support each other to speed up progress, he said.

FRANCISCO ALABI, Minister for Health of El Salvador, said his country has achieved tangible results in the fight against HIV/AIDS, decreasing the number of cases, focusing on key populations for intervention and identifying gaps to make greater progress.  His country has reduced mother-to-child transmission by 90 per cent.  Treatment is available free of charge.  El Salvador promotes sustainable development, including by empowering women.  It adopted the UNAIDS’ “95‑95-95” strategy of aiming to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 by having 95 per cent of people living with HIV know their HIV status; 95 per cent of people who know their status on treatment; and 95 per cent of people on treatment with suppressed viral loads.  These efforts have directly impacted quality of life in his country.

ENRIQUE PARIS, Minister for Health of Chile, welcomed efforts of Member States to put HIV/AIDS at the centre of global discussions, expressing support for the Secretary-General’s call for implementing commitment in the Declaration.  His country has made significant progress by guaranteeing diagnosis and treatment, eliminating vertical transmission and introducing an anti-discriminatory legal framework.  Stressing the need for greater access to health care for migrants, indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups, he underscored the role played by indigenous peoples’ organizations along Chile’s northern border.  He also highlighted the importance of strategic partnerships to pool efforts, including the Quito process.

FAEQA VINT SAEED AL-SALEH, Minister for Health of Bahrain, said her country has been fully engaged in the global fight against HIV/AIDS for the last 40 years.  At the national level, a dedicated committee works in a cross-cutting manner alongside civil society members to fight discrimination and facilitate access to free treatment for all those infected with HIV, as guaranteed by law.  Bahrain’s national legislation also ensures respect for the human rights and equality of all people, she said.

PAVITHRA DEVI WANNIARACHCHI, Minister for Health of Sri Lanka, spotlighted the global consensus on the need to accelerate HIV prevention and care services in order to reach the Sustainable Development Goals target of ending AIDS by 2030.  “This has become possible due to major scientific breakthroughs in approaches to HIV prevention and treatment,” she said.  However, the cost of life‑long maintenance of HIV medication can drain significant resources from limited health budgets.  Sri Lanka is considered a low-HIV-prevalent country, with an estimated 0.02 per cent prevalence rate.  In 2019, the country achieved its goal of eliminating mother-to-child transmission and received the relevant WHO validation certification.  However, the current COVID-19 pandemic poses new challenges for the HIV prevention and provision of care for those who are living with HIV.  In response, Sri Lanka is using online tools to maintain HIV prevention and care services through virtual platforms.  In that regard, she urged leaders gathered today not to forget the importance of ensuring prevention and care provision for people living with HIV as they combat COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the need to treat COVID-19 patients with HIV without discrimination.

JEYSON AUZA, Minister for Health of Bolivia, said that the HIV epidemic in his country “has a young face”, as 35 per cent of those living with the disease are between the ages of 15 and 24.  Despite the challenges imposed on Bolivia’s health system by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government has worked to ensure the continuity of HIV services, including diagnostic services in health‑care facilities that perform HIV screening and the provision of antiretroviral treatment.  Further, health‑care workers, with the support of organized civil society, deliver treatment to patients in remote areas.  Other Government efforts, he added, include measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among patients and medical personnel and multilingual radio messaging to raise public health awareness.

HARSH VARDHAN, Minister for Health and Family Welfare of India, applauded the efforts of health-care providers and front‑line workers “who have walked the extra mile risking their lives during COVID-19” to ensure that no person living with HIV was left without medication.  India’s 2017 HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act lays out a legal and enabling framework to safeguard the human rights of infected and affected populations.  Meanwhile, the country’s unique HIV prevention model is centred around the concept of social contracting through a targeted interventions programme, implemented with support from civil society.  The programme is aimed at behaviour change, communication, outreach, service delivery, counselling and testing, as well as ensuring access to HIV care.  Noting that India currently provides free antiretroviral treatment to nearly 1.4 million people and has scaled up its viral load testing facilities, HIV counselling and community-based screening for early diagnosis, he added that Indian drugs are also reaching millions of people living with HIV in Africa.

ALYMKADYR BEISHENALIEV, Minister for Health and Social Development of Kyrgyzstan, pointing to the upward trend in HIV infections in the Central Asia region, said that heterosexual transmission is the most prevalent, and therefore, awareness must be raised among the public.  Detailing various national programmes to combat HIV/AIDS, he said that his country was first in the region to follow WHO recommendations and has implemented rapid saliva testing among vulnerable groups, early HIV diagnosis for newborns, methadone therapy and syringe exchange.  He also stated that some of the measures proposed in the Political Declaration are not in line with national policy on sexual relations or the family, and the Government does not anticipate the legalization of sex work, drug use or same-sex relationships.  He expressed hope that the international community will adopt a declaration that accounts for national interests.

ANTONY BLINKEN, Secretary of State of the United States, recalled that, since the first official reports of HIV/AIDS cases, 32.7 million people lost their lives to the epidemic worldwide, including 700,000 in his own country.  More than 38 million people, including 1.2 million in the United States, are living with HIV.  Thanks to the efforts of generations of leaders, the world has “turned the tide” in this epidemic.  Noting that the United States has invested $85 billion for this cause, he stressed that remarkable progress has been made.  However, much remains to be done, as inequalities exist between and within countries, as well as across gender lines.  The battle cannot be won if the international community fails to close this gap, he said, stressing the importance of ensuring sexual and reproductive rights.

SILVIA PAULA VALENTIM LUTUCUTA, Minister for Health of Angola, associating herself with the African Group and the African Common Position, said her Government stands committed to responding to HIV/AIDS.  Among other things, the First Lady of Angola is leading a campaign known as “Free to Shine”, which seeks to reduce HIV transmission and eliminate mother-to-child transmission.  Spotlighting important gains made in the country since 2016, she cited significantly expanded access to testing, care and support services, as well as a greater national budget allocation to HIV which now funds 70 per cent of the medical treatment provided.  In addition, Angola has further reduced stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and included their rights in the national human rights framework.

TEYMUR MUSAYEV, Acting Minister for Health of Azerbaijan, said his country is among those that maintain low levels of HIV infection.  However, given the cross-border nature of the epidemic, the Government has embarked on a range of prevention programmes and allocated significant State budgets to curb its spread.  People living with HIV are provided with antiretroviral treatment free of charge, testing services are widely available and other care and support is also available.  Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s new plan to combat HIV for the period 2021‑2025 — which is in the process of approval — aims to achieve the new UNAIDS “95-95-95” targets and drive down stigma.  Echoing other speakers in noting that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on the country’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, he said trends nevertheless continue to move in the right direction.  Azerbaijan will continue to fight the virus in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, he pledged, welcoming the new Political Declaration and voicing his hope that it will be implemented while “taking into account the new realities” facing the world today.

ABDOULAYE SABRE FADOUL, Minister for Public Health and National Solidarity of Chad, highlighted COVID-19’s negative impact on the global HIV response and said that, despite recent progress, persons affected by conflict and humanitarian emergencies — as well as those in vulnerable groups — have difficulty accessing HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.  Although infections have been decreasing in Chad since 1990, the disease remains prevalent among youth aged 15 to 26 and other vulnerable groups, including prison populations.  Underscoring the importance of eliminating mother-to-child transmission along with the stigma that surrounds the virus, he urged the international community to work to end inequality and HIV/AIDS by 2030.

GUY PATRICK OBIANG NDONG, Minister for Health of Gabon, said that the global response to the threat that HIV/AIDS poses to public health will determine the international community’s success in achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Accordingly, the global HIV response must be multisectoral in nature and put the individual at the heart of sustainable development programmes.  For its part, the Government has implemented national measures that include the provision of free screening, universal insurance and assistance to those living with HIV.  Further, it works to combat gender inequality with programmes that stress education and protection for women.  Noting that the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has weakened developing countries’ ability to combat HIV/AIDS, he stressed that these countries must not be excluded from the international aid process and called on the international community to work together to end the AIDS epidemic.

AHMED ROBLEH ADILLEH, Minister for Health of Djibouti, said his country participated in the process of developing the UNAIDS five-year strategy for 2021‑2026.  Djibouti is mobilized to meet its commitments and end HIV/AIDS by 2030 to have a HIV-free generation.  To do this, the Government is committed to stepping up and continuing its efforts to revitalize combined HIV prevention, establish differentiated approaches to HIV testing and treatment, put civil society organizations at the forefront, break down all barriers to achieve results in HIV, and mobilize sustainable resources to finance the national response.

JORGE ALCOCER VARELA, Minister for Health of Mexico, noted that progress has been made over the 20 years since the adoption of the first Political Declaration, but to achieve the 2030 goal, more needs to be done by addressing, among others, gender violence and uneven access to health services.  Indigenous peoples are a key population that must be recognized and supported in the Declaration.  Young people are also among those key populations, as they are highly affected.  Lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic must be applied to the fight against HIV/AIDS. Action must come from the highest level, he stressed.

BRUCE BILIMON, Minister for Health and Human Services of the Marshall Islands, said his country has “come a long way” since the first case was diagnosed in 1984, commending the first local HIV team for their resilience in taking on the task of caring for the sick.  To date, there have been 32 HIV incidents in the Marshall Islands.  In addressing the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV, it was a challenge to conduct awareness campaigns, as talking about sexual health openly is taboo in the customs and traditions of his country.  Nonetheless, the Ministry collaborated with non-governmental organizations to help raise awareness, and today, the Marshall Islands has only 8 people living with HIV, four men and four women.  Noting that all are on antiretroviral treatment and at undetectable levels, he expressed the country’s commitment to uphold the 90-90-90 treatment for all target and to ensure that the “U=U” is strictly applied, he said, referring the “Undetectable Equals Untransmissible” campaign.

LIA TADESSE, Minister for Health of Ethiopia, outlined her country’s implementation of the global fast-tracked HIV response, as well as its broad multisectoral approach.  Noting that the HIV epidemic in Ethiopia is concentrated in urban areas and is highest in some distinct hotspots, she said the Government provides for same-day testing, pre-exposure prophylaxis and differentiated service‑delivery models, and it is working towards ending mother-to-child transmission.  In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, rapid programme adaptations were made to ensure the continuity of services.  Going forward, priorities will include reducing new infections among adolescents and young women, ensuring treatment and services in conflict areas and improving viral load testing uptake.  Those activities are enshrined in the new national strategic plan for 2021-2025, which was adopted following extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, she said.

ABDERRAHMANE BENBOUZID, Minister for Health, Population and Hospital Reform of Algeria, said fighting HIV/AIDS remains a sizable challenge for his country and many others, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Algeria employs a comprehensive approach that pools the efforts of a wide range of stakeholders, and which takes into consideration national specificity while addressing the needs of affected populations.  Treatment and care are funded by the Government at a rate of 90 per cent, which has resulted in a stabilized infection rate.  Antiretroviral drugs now cover some 70 per cent of those in need.  He went on to call for the important principle of State sovereignty to be enshrined in all global agreements on HIV/AIDS, such as the new Political Declaration, while noting that Algeria is working to strengthen its fight against HIV in line with its own laws and priorities.  In addition, the country has driven a range of important regional efforts, as demonstrated by the 2015 Algiers Declaration on Accelerating HIV Screening in the Middle East and North Africa.

ZAHID MALEQUE, Minister for Health and Family Welfare of Bangladesh, said that, while Bangladesh is considered a low-prevalence country for HIV, it remains extremely vulnerable due to its large, highly mobile population, transactional sex and extensive people-to-people contact with neighboring States.  Migration to other countries for employment is common — particularly among younger people — which makes these individuals vulnerable to HIV infection.  Detailing Government measures to provide people living with HIV the best possible treatment, care and support, he said that, while the Government is increasingly mobilizing domestic resources to prevent and treat the virus, there has been a notable decrease in financial support from various development partners.  He called for increased investment in HIV prevention and treatment programmes, adding that the global response must ensure that such investments reach the most vulnerable, including young people.

SHAH ABDULLAH MAHIR, Minister of State for Health of Maldives, said that his country has maintained its HIV prevalence rate at less than 0.1 per cent, with treatment being provided to all persons living with HIV.  Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government has ensured the continuity of HIV services, including uninterrupted access to antiretroviral drugs.  A national strategic plan for HIV, hepatitis and other sexually transmitted infections is being developed that will include refined strategies to speed up prevention outreach, he said.

Summaries of Thematic Panel Discussions

Next, the Assembly heard summaries of four of the five thematic panel discussions it convened over the course of its three-day high-level meeting.

The representative of Sweden delivered a statement on behalf of Per Ohlsson Fridh, Minister for International Development Cooperation of Sweden and Chair of thematic panel one, which focused on the theme “Addressing inequalities to End AIDS:  10 Years to 2030”.  Noting that participants underscored the need for integrated, preventative approaches that address intersecting social, economic and gender dimensions, she said many also spotlighted the importance of providing comprehensive sexual and reproductive education.  They also drew attention to the need to invest more in health systems as a key to achieving HIV/AIDS reduction targets and called for programmes and initiatives to be timebound, she said.

The representative of Guyana delivered a statement on behalf of Frank Anthony, Minister for Health of Guyana and Chair of thematic panel two, which addressed the theme “Putting people and communities at the centre of the response to AIDS”.  She said the panel reaffirmed the centrality of community leadership — especially leadership by people living with HIV and other key populations — in effective responses.  Panellists emphasized that such responses deliver better outcomes, strengthen human rights and reduce inequalities.  They noted that persistent inequalities, criminalization, shrinking civic spaces and funding gaps threaten strides made in the HIV response.  Panellists also made a series of recommendations, including the urgent need for financing mechanisms and technical support for community responses and greater political will.

The representative of Canada delivered a statement on behalf of Karina Gould, Minister for International Development of Canada and Chair of thematic panel four on “Advancing Gender Equality and empowering women and girls in the AIDS response”.  He said the panel made clear that, if the world is serious about ending HIV, it must also be serious about ending gender inequality and the harmful gender norms that continue to put women and girls at a heightened rate of infection.  The world must protect and champion women living with HIV, those in prison, sex workers, child brides, migrants and refugees, and those in rural or poor urban areas.  Among other recommendations, participants noted the importance of leveraging education, meaningfully including men and boys, allocating transparent budgets and scaling up investments.

The representative of the Russian Federation delivered a statement on behalf of Alexey Mazus, Chief External Expert on HIV Infection at the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation and Chair of thematic panel five.  That panel, which focused on the theme “Addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the AIDS response and building back better for pandemic preparedness”, concluded that the pandemic has slowed countries down in their efforts to end AIDS by 2030.  Participants called for expanded multilateral cooperation and noted that countries that had previously experienced infectious disease outbreaks were much better prepared than others for COVID-19.  Among other things, they noted the importance of restoring HIV testing any other services that were interrupted, as well as expanding service access to rural areas.

Panel three on “Resources and funding for an effective AIDS response”, was chaired by Ken Ofori-Atta, Minister for Finance of Ghana.

Statement by Elton John AIDS Foundation

ELTON JOHN, founder of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, said in a pre‑recorded video address that the global HIV/AIDS response stands as a shining example of solidarity “in a world gripped by polarization and division”.  While humanity is focused on stopping the COVID-19 pandemic, it must not give up its fight against HIV/AIDS.  Forty years ago, that virus was met with denial, fear and blame, and spread unchecked across countries and continents.  “It took millions of brave people, desperate people, people staring death in the face — begging to be seen as human beings — for the world to respond,” he said.  While incredible scientific breakthroughs have been made to prevent and treat HIV, saving the lives of more than 20 million people, that progress remains very uneven.  Advocating for responses that follow the science, promote rights-based laws and policies that leave no one behind, he called on world leaders to turn the Assembly’s Political Declaration into bold and concrete action.

“We must look beyond the fear that prompts us to judge or control others,” he continued, urging countries to empower women and girls to make their own choices and protect their sexual health.  Governments and people must resist punishing others for who they love, and encourage them to love safely.  Meanwhile, the global community must find the resources and flexibility needed to make effective, cutting-edge interventions available to everyone, everywhere.  As COVID-19 continues to worsen in many countries, the denial and scapegoating that tragically led to millions of deaths from HIV/AIDS is returning.  “Let us learn the lessons of the past and not repeat them,” he stressed, calling for investments in the community-led organizations and health systems, beginning that this week’s Group of Seven (G7) countries meeting.  “With your leadership, we can defeat AIDS and COVID‑19 and be better prepared for other pandemics that will follow,” he said.

For information media. Not an official record.