NEW YORK - The head of UNAIDS said Tuesday that inequalities are a chief driver of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, just as they are with COVID-19.
"Inequalities in power, status, rights and voice are driving the HIV pandemic," said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS. "Inequalities kill."
Since the first cases were reported 40 years ago, UNAIDS says 77.5 million people have been infected with HIV, and nearly 35 million have died from AIDS.
Byanyima told a high-level meeting of the U.N. General Assembly that nations must end the inequalities that perpetuate HIV/AIDS if they want to meet their target of ending the epidemic by 2030.
"Today we are setting bold, ambitious goals to reach 95% of those in need with HIV treatment and prevention," she said. "To get there we need to re-imagine HIV services, making them easy to access and designed around people's lives."
Byanyima said the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how political will can help push science and that the same sort of push needs to be made for HIV/AIDS treatments, prevention, care and vaccines.
U.N. Messenger of Peace Charlize Theron addressed the meeting in a video message Tuesday.
The South African actress said it is often the most vulnerable people who are the least likely to have access to the services they need.
"Because the fact remains, that whether you live or die from AIDS is still too often determined by who you are, who you love and where you live," Theron said.
U.N. member states adopted a political declaration on scaling up progress in order to reach the 2030 goal, but it was not without some controversy.
Just before the adoption, Russia's representative tried to get the assembly to agree to three amendments, which would have eliminated language on respecting the human rights of persons living with HIV/AIDS and ending discriminatory and restrictive laws based on a person's HIV status.
The amendments were overwhelmingly voted down, and the original draft text, which was the result of lengthy negotiations and compromises among member states, was adopted with 165 votes in favor, four against and no country abstaining. Belarus, Nicaragua and Syria joined Russia in voting against the declaration.