Civil society groups from around the world denounced the final UN Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, released after marathon negotiations during the UN High Level meeting on AIDS this week.
"Once more we are disappointed at the failure to demonstrate real political leadership in the fight against the pandemic" said The Most Revd Njongonkulu Ndungane, the Anglican Archbishop of Capetown. "Even at this late stage, we call on the world's political leaders to rise up and meet the challenges that the pandemic presents and to set ambitious targets at a national level to guarantee universal access to treatment, care, support and prevention."
UN Member States refused to commit to hard targets on funding, prevention, care and treatment. They rejected frank acknowledgement that some of the today's fastest growing HIV epidemics are happening among injecting and other drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men. "The final outcome document is pathetically weak. It is remarkable at this stage in the global epidemic that governments can not set the much needed targets nor can they can name in the document the very people that are most vulnerable" said Sisonke Msimang of the African Civil Society Coalition.
"African governments have displayed a stunning degree of apathy, irresponsibility, and complete disrespect for any of the agreements they made in the last few months" said Leonard Okello, Head of HIV/AIDS for Action Aid International. "The negotiation processes was guided by trading political, economic and other interests of the big and powerful countries rather than the glaring facts and statistics of the global AIDS crisis, seventy percent of which is in Sub-Saharan Africa."
African government delegations reneged on their promises in the 2006 Abuja Common position agreed to by African Heads of State. South Africa and Egypt, in particular, took a deliberate decision to oppose the setting of targets on prevention and treatment, despite the fact that both participated in the Abuja Summit that endorsed ambitious targets to be reached by 2010. "The continent that is most ravaged by AIDS has demonstrated a complete lack of leadership. It is a sad, sad day as an African to be represented by such poor leadership" said Omololu Faloubi of the African Civil Society Coalition.
But the African governments were not alone. The United States was particularly damaging to the prospects for a strong declaration. Throughout the negotiations they moved time and again to weaken language on HIV prevention, low-cost drugs and trade agreements and to eliminate commitments on targets for funding and treatment. "It's death by diplomacy," said Eric Sawyer, veteran activist and 25-year survivor of HIV/AIDS. "Hour after hour, my government fought for its own selfish interests rather than for the lives of millions dying needlessly around the globe"
There has however been a strong recognition in the declaration of the alarming feminization of the pandemic. Commitments were made to ensure that women can exercise their right to have control over their sexuality and to the goal of achieving universal access to reproductive health by 2015.
This progress was undermined however by regressive governments. "Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan and Gabon blocked efforts to recognize and act to empower girls to protect themselves from HIV infection" said Pinar Ilkkaracan, President of Women for Women's Human Rights. "Their failure to commit to ensuring access to comprehensive sexuality education for young people, and promote and protect sexual rights will undermine the response to the HIV pandemic."
This was compounded by the declaration failing to acknowledge that some of the today's fastest growing HIV epidemics are happening among injecting and other drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men, despite strong support from the Rio Group of countries. For example, governments have ignored the needs of injecting drug users by not stating the need for substitution drug treatment, putting them at further risk. "Failing to fully address the needs of these groups, and particularly to counter stigma and discrimination by decriminalizing drug use and sexual behaviors, will render them more invisible and ultimately lead to even higher rates of HIV/AIDS" said Raminta Stuikyte of the Central and Eastern European Harm Reduction Network.
Again the US, along with other governments, ensured that the final declaration text contains a substantially weaker reference to the AIDS funding need. It now only acknowledges that more money is needed, rather than committing to raising the needed funds. An estimated $23 billion is needed per annum by 2010 in order to fund AIDS treatment, care, prevention and health infrastructure. "At this stage in the pandemic, we expected government commitment to close the global funding gap," said Kieran Daly of the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations. "Instead they have tried to let themselves off the hook."
While there has been a failure of governments to face the realities of HIV/AIDS, civil society will be holding them to account. Civil society will hold governments to account to deliver on universal access. Civil society will make sure governments recognize and support vulnerable populations. The failure of governments to commit will not be accepted.
EDITORS NOTE: "Vulnerable populations" includes women and girls, youth, older people, men who have sex with men, injecting and other drug users, sex workers, transgenders, people living in poverty, prisoners, migrant laborers, orphans, people in conflict and post-conflict situations, indigenous peoples, refugees and internally displaced persons, as well as HIV/AIDS outreach workers and people living with HIV/AIDS.
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Red Tra Sex
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Share - Net
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Treatment Action Movement, Nigeria
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World AIDS Campaign
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