Sun, Jun 04, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Activists slam world leaders at global AIDS meet

MONEY WORRIES Rights groups criticized a nonbinding declaration as global leaders stopped short of setting goals for AIDS funding owing to fears of the financial burden


World leaders resisted setting exact financial targets for the fight against AIDS at a major conference, drawing criticism from activists who claimed they do not want to shoulder the financial burden of trying to stop the epidemic.

However, rights groups also said there were some gains from the conference that wrapped up on Friday, including a push for drug users to be given sterile injecting equipment and recognition that the fight against AIDS will require up to US$23 billion each year by 2010.

The meeting was meant to review efforts to fight AIDS and prepare national plans to fight the virus over the next 10 years. It came after a UN report said that 40 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS, and 8,000 die every day from the virus.

"The epidemic continues to outpace us," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said. "Last year, globally, there were more new infections than ever before, and more people died than ever before."

Overall, activists said the nonbinding final declaration was a missed opportunity, and 69 groups denounced it outright. They said it lacked the kind of bold, galvanizing proposals included in a plan of action that was agreed to at a similar conference in 2001.

The resistance to financial targets came mostly from the leading donor nations, including the US, the EU, Japan and Australia, who feared that if they set goals for AIDS funding, they would be the ones expected to bear the biggest burden.

They settled for a promise to set "ambitious national targets" this year so nations can achieve universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010. The world spent US$8.3 billion to fight AIDS last year.

Civil rights groups acknowledge that few of the earlier goals were met, but they said those targets provided a yardstick to measure the progress against AIDS.

"It's true, many of the targets that were set in 2001 weren't met, but that's also extremely important information [while doing] the post-mortem and examine why that was the case," said Asia Russell, director for international policy with the Philadelphia-based Health Global Access Program.

Some delegates had also hoped that after five years, world leaders would have been more open to specifically mentioning those most at risk to the virus, including prostitutes, gay men and intravenous drug users.

Instead, they stuck to the same language from 2001, only referring to "vulnerable groups."

"I wish we could have been a bit more frank in our document about telling the truth," said Britain's development secretary, Hilary Benn.

"Abstinence is fine for those who are able to abstain, but human beings like to have sex and they should not die because they do have sex," she said.

Still, the meeting was not the disaster some had feared. Early on in the negotiations, some Islamic countries had resisted even the reference to "vulnerable groups," and the US was opposed to any financial targets at all.

The atmosphere changed after government officials arrived from their countries and took over negotiations from UN diplomats based in New York. UN General Assembly President Jan Eliasson also intervened with a draft that he urged officials to live with.

Some civil rights groups pointed to language on young people, including "comprehensive, evidence based prevention strategies" and the use of condoms. Conservative nations had resisted efforts to deliver comprehensive sex education to children.

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