U.N. General Assembly Opens Special Session on AIDS in New York
The U.N. General Assembly today will begin its special session in New York to address HIV/AIDS, marking the first time that the group of 189 nations has "focused on a single disease," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. During the three-day meeting, U.N. officials hope to "galvanize political support" for efforts to fight the disease, "accelerate" efforts to prevent and treat HIV infection in the developing world and raise billions of additional dollars to combat AIDS in "impoverished" sub-Saharan Africa, where 70% of the world's 36 million people with HIV reside (Collins, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/24). The Los Angeles Times reports that the conference "caps a series of recent, meaningful shifts indicating that the campaign against the disease is moving forward at a pace long hoped for" by AIDS activists (Farley, Los Angeles Times, 6/24). "For the first time, political leaders from all over the world are recognizing that AIDS is a crisis and we've got to do something," Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, said (Collins, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/24). He added, "We know what works, we know what we have to do and the biggest job now is to get resources to get the job done." However, U.N. delegates have "struggled" over proposed language for the Declaration of Commitment, which outlines "goals and targets" for nations to combat AIDS (Wren, New York Times, 6/24). Several Muslim nations, for example, have objected to language about homosexuality, intravenous drug use and women's rights. In addition, delegates have drawn "strong battle lines" over whether the United Nations should highlight prevention or treatment of the disease. Delegates will debate the declaration during the conference and hope to issue a final version by Wednesday.
Matter of Money
U.N. delegates also hope to build a "war chest big enough" to fund the fight against AIDS worldwide. According to a UNAIDS report released Thursday, an "effective" HIV prevention, treatment and care program for developing nations would cost $9.2 billion by 2005, but philanthropy groups, governments and insurers today spend only $1.8 billion on the effort. In addition, the Global AIDS and Health Fund, which has about $525 million, has fallen "far short" of efforts to raise $7 billion to $10 billion from western nations, philanthropy groups and corporations (Collins, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/24). A draft of the Declaration of Commitment would provide $4.8 billion for prevention and $4.4 billion for treatment for HIV patients and their families, including $1.13 billion to purchase and distribute antiretroviral drugs in developing nations (Garrett, Newsday, 6/24). However, AIDS activist groups have criticized UNAIDS for placing "too much emphasis" on prevention and "not enough" on treatment (Collins, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/24). "We are deeply concerned that the draft declaration puts a lot of emphasis on prevention. Prevention has been the main response of the international community so far, and when you look at the soaring numbers, we know that it does not work," Dr. Anne-Valerie Kaninda of Doctors Without Borders said (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/24). She added, "The medical ethics tells us you cannot simply write off 34 million people in the developing world" (Collins, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/24). On Saturday, hundreds of AIDS activists demonstrated in New York, calling for increased support for individuals with AIDS worldwide (Roth, Associated Press, 6/23). Demonstrators "argued" that the U.N. conference "won't do enough" to fight the AIDS pandemic, urging western nations to commit more funds to AIDS treatment and "forgive the crippling debt" that many developing nations face (Robin, Newsday, 6/24). The Washington Post reports that a number of groups plan to "air their differences" with UNAIDS in demonstrations, marches and alternative news conferences (DeYoung, Washington Post, 6/24).
Who's in the House?
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, 24 heads of state, including 17 from Africa, will attend the U.N. conference. South African President Thabo Mbeki will likely not attend (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/24). In addition, "not a single head of state" from South Asia or eastern Europe, regions that may face an AIDS epidemic in the future, plans to attend the U.N. meeting (Collins, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/24). A 50-member U.S. delegation, headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, will attend, as well as representatives from non-governmental sectors with a "stake in the AIDS pandemic" (Washington Post, 6/24). According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, drug industry representatives will attend the conference, but will "play little more than a supporting role." They plan to "downshif[t] mightily to deliver the message" that the industry "is merely one player among many" in the AIDS pandemic (Warner, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/24). U.N. officials remain "optimistic, even buoyed" that the world has begun "tackling" the AIDS epidemic. "It is technically, politically and financially feasible to contain HIV/AIDS and dramatically reduce its spread and impact," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said (Collins, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/24). Still, the New York Times reports that although the "greatest successes" in "eradicating" a single disease have resulted from "single-issue campaigns," such as the U.N. conference, a "narrow approach" to AIDS also holds a number of risks (Flanders, New York Times, 6/24).
On the Web
Kaisernetwork.org will Healthcast coverage of the special assembly beginning Monday, June 25, at 9 a.m. ET until Wednesday, June 27, at 9 p.m. ET. To view the webcast, visit www.kaisernetwork.org/healthcast/un/aids/jun01 (Kaisernetwork.org release, 6/21).