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World Community Pledges to Eradicate AIDS

The international community has agreed to a political declaration with ambitious targets intended to end AIDS-related deaths within ten years. The commitments were made at a high-level United Nations meeting charting the global AIDS response for the next decade. But some AIDS activists say the document does not go far enough.

The three-day conference brought together 3,000 people -- heads of state and government, other high-level political leaders, activists and members of civil society.

Their goal: to achieve “triple zero” within ten years. That is zero new infections of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS; reducing to zero the stigma and discrimination associated with the illness; and zero AIDS-related deaths.

Since it was discovered 30 years ago, AIDS has killed more than 25 million people worldwide. Today some 34 million people are living with the virus and 7,000 new infections occur each day.

UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Paul De Lay detailed some of the targets in the declaration, which include more than doubling the number of people currently receiving antiretroviral treatment in low- and middle-income countries within the next four years.

“To halve sexual transmission of HIV by 2015; to reduce transmission of HIV among people who inject drugs by 50 percent by 2015; to ensure that by 2015 no children will be born with HIV; to increase universal access to antiretroviral therapy to get 15 million people onto life-saving treatment by 2015; and to reduce TB [tuberculosis] deaths in people living with HIV by 50 percent by 2015,” De Lay said.

Reaching these goals will cost money, and De Lay told reporters that U.N. member states have pledged to close the financial gap and work toward increasing AIDS funding to between $22 and $24 billion a year by 2015.

But Sharonann Lynch of Doctors without Borders notes that no country made a specific financial commitment this week.

“Governments agreed to scale up treatment to 15 million by 2015. They also agreed to pay for it, but no one brought their checkbooks. What we need to see in November at the G20 summit is exactly that. The next thing, the next signature we want to see is on a check to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria or to national HIV treatment programs, so that we can actually scale-up and meet this promise,” Lynch said.

Work negotiating the 16-page declaration began a year ago, with diplomats from Botswana and Australia acting as the facilitators.

But critics say it does not go far enough in addressing issues and groups critical to a comprehensive AIDS response. Aditi Sharma of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition worries that despite all the talk at the conference about empowering women and girls, the final declaration has let them down.

“Despite where we are at this epidemic and knowing all that we know, and with women accounting for half the people affected by HIV/AIDS, we have had a struggle to push through a single paragraph on women that recognizes their sexual and reproductive rights, and the paragraph that we’ve got is the same one we had in 2006. Where are the concrete measures, targets, specific funding to move forward the agenda on how HIV programs will not just have specific interventions for women and girls, but also tackle some of the issues that fuel the epidemic like gender inequality and violence against women?,” Sharma said.

Diarmaid McDonald of the British-based coalition Stop AIDS Campaign said his coalition would have liked to see language about access to affordable antiretroviral drugs needed to treat and prevent HIV and AIDS.

“Unfortunately, the current intellectual property regime makes it incredibly difficult for countries to get access to affordable generic versions of their drugs. And we hope that world leaders will support countries’ ability to override the rules which stop them from producing generic drugs so they can get the drugs that their people need,” McDonald said.

Other activists say the negotiation process was difficult because of conservative governments including Egypt, some African countries and even the Vatican, who worked to keep language out about sex education for youth, and references to risk groups such as men who have sex with men and transgender persons. In the final declaration the men made it in, but the transgendered did not.

But overall, UNAIDS’ Paul De Lay says he is pleased with the final declaration, which was adopted by acclamation in the U.N. General Assembly. He said it is not possible to have everything that they would have liked to see in it, but it is an “excellent document” that UNAIDS feels is strong and comprehensive enough to move the AIDS battle forward for the next decade.