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International AIDS Society Disappointed in UN

The International AIDS Society says last week’s UN General Assembly declaration on HIV/AIDS fell short of what is needed to fight the pandemic. It says 25 years into the epidemic, politics are still blocking implementation of needed programs.

The Geneva-based International AIDS Society represents more than 7,000 HIV-related professionals in more than 150 countries. Executive Director Craig McClure says the UN declaration failed to set strong commitments to strengthen the response to the epidemic.

“The lack of clear targets I think in terms of scaling up the numbers of health workers we need in order to deliver prevention and treatment to the levels that we expect to, i.e. universal access by 2010. No targets were in the document. And in addition to that I think what was disappointing to us was that 25 years into this epidemic countries are still unable to name specifically the populations that are most at risk, like sex workers and injecting drug users, gay men and other men who have sex with men.”

In the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, politics played a major role, especially in the debate over what groups, organizations or individuals should be in charge of the effort to treat and cure it. McClure says politics still play a major role.

“Oh, absolutely! In fact it becomes more political every day. You know, in some respects some societies are becoming even more conservative than they were in the early days in relation to in discussion on sex and drug use. And the fact that sex and drug use really are the drivers of the HIV epidemic makes that slide back into more conservative ideals and conservative ethics even more difficult when we’re trying to fight HIV and AIDS.”

Many conservatives have criticized AIDS prevention programs, saying too much emphasis has been placed on condoms and too little on abstinence and being faithful. There is also concern about government funds going to programs that help sex workers, for example.

“Well, abstinence is of course is an intervention that works. People who are able not to have sex certainly are not vulnerable to HIV infection. But I think that most people would agree that in most if not all countries of the world people are having sex. So, abstinence can be a very difficult concept for people to accept. Monogamy and ‘be faithful’ approaches that encourage couples who are in monogamous relationships to remain monogamous also can be very effective. But we need to remember that there are many communities where that isn’t realistic.”

He says for example that monogamous women have no protection from HIV if they are raped or have husbands who are unfaithful.

“It’s important to accept and acknowledge countries that do have more conservative values, of course. But even in those countries, the communities that are most vulnerable to HIV infection are there, need to be recognized and need to be served. So that we can prevent HIV infection in those communities and we can prevent it spreading out into the heterosexual population as well.”

But McClure says the UN High Level Meeting on AIDS did provide an opportunity to review the General Assembly’s commitments made at a special session five years ago. It also invited an unprecedented number of civil society organizations to participate.

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