Despite Reservations Voiced over Elements Contradicting National Legislation, Member States Support Broad Efforts to Reduce Infection Risks, Stamp Out Epidemic
The General Assembly today opened a three-day high-level meeting on ending AIDS with the adoption, without a vote, of a Political Declaration calling for urgent action and intensified efforts to ensure that the global response to HIV and AIDS left no one behind.
The adoption of the “Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS: On the Fast-Track to Accelerate the Fight against HIV and the End the AIDS Epidemic by 2030” followed on the outcome of the last such meeting on the issue five years ago and placed it in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.
By its terms, the General Assembly noted with deep concern that the HIV epidemic remained a paramount health, development, human rights and social challenge worldwide. It expressed grave concern that young people aged 15 to 24 accounted for more than one third of all new HIV infections among adults and that women and girls were still the ones most affected by the epidemic.
Among the commitments set out in the document, Member States would remove obstacles that limited the ability of low- and middle-income countries to provide affordable HIV treatment. They would also step up efforts, relevant to cultural contexts, to provide adolescents and young people with information on sexual reproductive health and HIV prevention. In addition, Member States would eliminate stigma and discrimination to ensure universal access to HIV treatment.
Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that the next five years represented a window of opportunity to “radically change” the epidemic’s trajectory and wipe out AIDS forever. “If we do not act, there is a danger the epidemic will rebound in low- and middle-income countries,” he said, adding that action now could avert an estimated 17.6 million new infections and 11 million premature deaths by 2030.
General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft (Denmark) called ending the AIDS epidemic “one of the greatest achievements of our lifetime”. In a world of incredible possibility, he said, it was hard to believe that 6,000 new HIV infections occurred daily and that 36.9 million people were living with AIDS.
Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said the Political Declaration would open a new door for ending AIDS. But, he warned that gains were fragile, with women being infected at the same rates as 20 years ago, adolescent girls “shockingly” vulnerable and discrimination pushing people into the shadows.
During the discussion, Heads of State, ministers and representatives reported national progress, voiced concerns and pledged further support to help stamp out the epidemic and reach the “90-90-90” goal of 90 per cent of children screened, 90 per cent in treatment and 90 per cent viral suppression.
Ruhakana Rugunda, Prime Minister of Uganda, said the number of new HIV infections had declined to 83,265 from 162,000, and prevalence among HIV-exposed infants had fallen to 3 per cent from 19 per cent in 2007. Furthermore, the number of people receiving antiretroviral therapy had increased to 834,931 in 2015 from 588,039 in 2013. Regarding efforts to achieve the 90-90-90 targets, he noted that 65 per cent of the HIV-infected population had been diagnosed and given access to care.
In that regard, he went on to say, Uganda’s population HIV impact assessment survey, which would begin in July, would provide the Government with better and current estimates. Despite those achievements, challenges remained in order to fast track the response, he said, expressing concern that only 55 per cent of Ugandans had ever been tested for HIV and 43 per cent of those eligible for antiretroviral therapy were not receiving treatment.
Regional groups addressed triumphs and challenges, with Timothy Harris, Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), reporting great strides between 2006 and 2015. Despite progress made, the region was second to sub-Saharan Africa in its prevalence rate.
Indeed, Ginette Michaud Privert, First Lady of Haiti, said hers remained one of the worst affected countries, noting that women make up 60 per cent of all people living with HIV/AIDS. She said the Political Declaration had been built on the ideas of ramping up actions to tackle HIV/AIDS and bolstering commitments to do so. To make tangible progress, she said, it was essential to ensure cooperation among all relevant actors, including international organizations, Governments, private sector, academia and pharmaceutical companies.
Prior to the adoption of the Political Declaration, the high-level meeting heard from Loyce Maturu, a Zimbabwean living with AIDS since the age of 12. She described how stigmatization had led to young people being denied jobs and scholarships. She urged Governments not to overlook such high-risk persons as sex workers, prisoners, migrants and those who inject drugs.
Participants also heard from Ndoba Mandela, a grandson of former President of South Africa, the late Nelson Mandela, who called for the end of travel bans imposed by 35 countries on persons with HIV. He also suggested told delegates to “always carry two condoms — one for you to use without fail and another to give to someone who isn’t carrying their own”. For a pittance, he said, they could make a difference and save lives.
Following the adoption of the Political Declaration, some delegates expressed reservations. Several, among them the representatives of Libya, Yemen and Sudan, had drawn attention to paragraphs that ran counter to their national legislation, religions and traditions. The representative of Iceland questioned the use of the term “sex worker”. His counterparts from Canada and Australia said they would have preferred stronger references to stigma, violence and discrimination facing people affected by the epidemic.
Making statements were ministers and representatives of Burkina Faso, Honduras, Saint Kitts and Nevis (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Swaziland, Uganda, Lesotho, Gabon, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, Monaco, Zambia (on behalf of the African Group), Botswana (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community), Mexico, Ukraine, Costa Rica, India, Central African Republic, Russian Federation, Armenia, Germany, Cambodia, Sweden, Kenya, Cuba, Namibia, Thailand, Zimbabwe, Tunisia and Algeria.
Speaking in explanation of vote after the Political Declaration’s adoption were representatives of Argentina (on behalf of a group of countries), Cuba, Singapore, Sudan, United States, Djibouti, Trinidad and Tobago, Indonesia, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Libya, Russian Federation and Yemen, as well as the Holy See.
The high-level meeting will continue at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 9 June