At UNGASS, U.N. Secretary-General Criticizes Lack of Efforts To Fight HIV/AIDS Pandemic
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS in New York City on Wednesday criticized nations for their failure to meet targets to curb HIV/AIDS by 2005, the New York Times reports (Altman, New York Times, 6/1). In advance of the special session, UNAIDS on Tuesday released the "2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic," which compiles data from 126 countries, as well as independent data from more than 30 civil society organizations, and reviews global progress in controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS since the 2001 U.N. General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS. The report estimates that at the end of 2005, 38.6 million people worldwide were living with HIV (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/31). Annan in his speech said the vast majority of countries have fallen "distressingly" short of meeting their targets set at the 2001 session for combating the virus (BBC News, 5/31). Annan also urged member countries to protect those at highest risk for contracting HIV -- commercial sex workers, injection drug users and men who have sex with men (Leopold, Reuters AlertNet, 5/31). "The world has been unconscionably slow in meeting one of the most vital aspects of the struggle: measures to fight the spread of [HIV/]AIDS among women and girls," he said, adding, "These shortcomings are deadly" (BBC News, 5/31). To stem the spread of HIV/AIDS, "we must work closely and constructively with those who have too often been marginalized," Annan said, adding, "We need to be realistic. If we are here to try and end the epidemic, ... we will not succeed by putting our heads in the sand and pretending these people do not exist or do not need help" (Reuters AlertNet, 5/31). A preliminary draft of the 2006 U.N. "declaration of commitment" on HIV/AIDS calls for signers to "promote gender equality and empowerment of women and girls." A group of African nations and the Organization of the Islamic Conference -- a group of Islamic countries -- is seeking to substitute that phrase with "promote and protect the rights of the girl child," the Washington Post reports (Brown, Washington Post, 6/1). The U.S. said it supports the mention of marginalized and vulnerable groups, which is a change from the country's position in 2001, the AP/Sioux City Journal reports. Kirsten Silverberg, who heads the U.S. State Department office responsible for U.N.-related matters, said, "We would love the mention of vulnerable populations -- generally, specifically, we have no objection" (Wadhams, AP/Sioux City Journal, 5/31).
UNAIDS Director Piot, Annan Call for Tripling Funding for Global HIV/AIDS Programs
UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot speaking at the conference Wednesday said that at least $22 billion annually by 2008 is required for global HIV/AIDS programs to curb the pandemic, the Times reports. The projected $22 billion is nearly three times the $8.3 billion spent on such programs in 2005, according to the Times (New York Times, 6/1). Delegates at the U.N. session plan to draft a new plan to provide universal access to HIV/AIDS care by 2010. In 2006, $8.9 billion is expected to be available to fight HIV/AIDS in developing countries, but $14.9 billion will be needed, according to UNAIDS. The agency projects the need for resources will rise to $22.1 billion by 2008, including $11.4 billion for prevention (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/31). According to the Times, of the projected $22 billion, about half is needed for prevention; one-quarter for treatment of HIV-positive people; and one-quarter for orphans at risk of contracting HIV and for program costs. Piot on Wednesday said that a boost in the financing of HIV/AIDS treatment services and more effective political leadership could help achieve universal access to antiretrovirals over the next few years. He also said that countries must fundamentally change their approach to addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic, shifting from crisis management to "sustained attention and the kind of 'anything it takes' resolve that member states apply to preventing global financial meltdowns or wars." Annan on Wednesday also called on countries to spend more on the fight against HIV/AIDS. He said, "It took the world far too long to wake up" to a pandemic that has infected more than 60 million people, more than 25 million of whom have died (New York Times, 6/1). He added that a sustained commitment is needed because the pandemic "has spread further, faster and with more catastrophic long-term effects than any other disease" (AP/Sioux City Journal, 5/31).
Some Participants Fear Weaker U.N. HIV/AIDS Declaration Than 2001
Some delegates fear the 2006 U.N. "declaration of commitment" on HIV/AIDS might be significantly weaker than the declaration drafted at the U.N. assembly in 2001, the Post reports. The 2001 declaration laid out several goals, including the specific amount of money that should be spent on HIV/AIDS in developing countries in 2005, the percentage of pregnant women who should be receiving drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and the percentage of HIV-positive people with advanced stages of the disease who should be receiving antiretroviral drugs. Most of the goals in the 2001 declaration were not met, but the total amount of money spent on HIV/AIDS in developing nations met the goal, with $8.3 billion being spent. The declaration, which is to be presented to the general assembly on Friday, is not a binding document, but is "widely believed to have been a key factor" in directing global resources to address HIV/AIDS in the developing world, the Post reports. About 800 civil society groups invited to help prepare the 2006 declaration are advocating the following goals be included: providing antiretroviral drugs to 80% of HIV-positive pregnant women and 80% of HIV-positive people who need treatment, as well as to 100% of people living with both tuberculosis and AIDS. In the declaration draft dated May 30, such goals are not mentioned, according to the Post. In addition, UNAIDS estimates that $20 billion to $23 billion annually will be needed to fight HIV/AIDS by 2010. U.S. representatives are seeking to have the declaration "take note" of that goal, rather than have it be "recognized," the Post reports. According to people familiar with the negotiations, the U.S. -- which in 2005 contributed more money to the fight against HIV/AIDS than any other country -- is concerned that if specific targets are defined, it will be held more responsible than other countries for possible funding shortfalls, according to the Post. The May 30 draft of the declaration also says that individual countries will have better "ownership" of their HIV/AIDS programs if they draft their own targets instead of obtaining prespecified targets from the declaration. The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief sets targets for the number of HIV-positive people to be treated in the countries in which it provides prevention and treatment services, the Post reports. In addition, the Islamic Conference is seeking to strike the term "vulnerable groups" from the declaration, which was the compromise term used in the 2001 declaration in order not to specifically mention MSM, sex workers and IDUs. According to the Post, there also has been other "word-jockeying on gender issues" (Washington Post, 6/1).
Former Bush Administration AIDS Policy Director Attends Meeting To Challenge U.S. Focus on Abstinence, Fidelity To Prevent HIV
Former Bush administration AIDS Policy Director Scott Evertz on Tuesday on the eve of the meeting challenged President Bush's focus on abstinence and fidelity in global efforts to control HIV/AIDS, Reuters India reports. According to Evertz, the Bush administration has reached out to Islamic governments, including those it considers terrorist states, to support a new declaration supporting abstinence and fidelity as important tools in preventing the spread of HIV. "I honestly don't know why we now need to insert, through this process, language about abstinence and fidelity," Evertz said, adding, "We all know that abstinence and fidelity are important parts of a comprehensive strategy, and they make sense. Abstinence is truly effective if one is able to adhere to that. But if one is not or if one chooses not to, then other messages need to be provided to that individual as well." Evertz also said that if the U.S. succeeds in adding abstinence and fidelity to the new declaration, governments dependent on U.S. funding might feel pressured to tailor their HIV prevention and education services to reflect the U.S. emphasis on abstinence and fidelity (Arieff, Reuters India, 5/31).
India Refutes U.N. Report's Figure of Country's HIV/AIDS Prevalence
Indian Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss on Wednesday said he "totally disagreed" with data cited in the global AIDS epidemic report that said that the number of HIV-positive people in India had surpassed that of South Africa, making India the country with highest number of HIV-positive people, Reuters South Africa reports (Allen, Reuters South Africa, 5/31). According to the report, India has 5.7 million people living with the disease, compared with 5.5 million in South Africa. However, because of India's population of 1.1 billion -- compared with South Africa's 44 million -- the country's HIV prevalence still is considered low, Karen Stanecki of UNAIDS said (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/31). "I am very surprised with the UNAIDS report," Ramadoss said, adding that he supports Indian figures estimating that there are 5.2 million cases in the country. Ramadoss also rejected the report's figures that about 7% of people with HIV/AIDS in India were receiving antiretroviral drugs. Ramadoss said the Indian government's figure was higher, but he did not provide figures. Denis Broun, India's coordinator for UNAIDS, said the agency had reached a "more accurate" figure by including all age groups in its survey. Previous surveys included only people between ages 15 and 49. Broun praised India's HIV prevention program, which promotes condom use among high-risk groups, such as commercial sex workers. "India's prevention policies are starting to bear fruit," he said, adding that the country needs to increase its treatment programs. "India is one of the late starters when it comes to treatment, and the number of people covered is quite low," he said, adding, "At present, I think 1,500 children are getting [antiretroviral treatment] out of the 50,000 who need it" (Reuters South Africa, 5/31).
Hundreds of HIV/AIDS advocates in New York City on Wednesday protested against world leaders for what they said is a lack of progress in fighting the spread of the virus, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports (Butler, AP/Long Island Newsday, 5/31). According to the New York Daily News, police arrested 21 advocates after they chained themselves together in the lobby of a building that houses the U.S. Mission to the U.N. The advocates carried a sign that called on the delegates of the U.N. assembly to commit more funding to "HIV prevention based on science, not ideology," the Daily News reports (Gendar, New York Daily News, 6/1).