Sat, Sep 23, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Last-minute US changes scupper HIV/AIDS plan

AP , AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

A resolution calling for universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment has been withdrawn from the WHO's Asia conference because the US insisted on changing it, senior officials said yesterday.

US officials submitted a series of last-minute amendments to remove expressions of support in the resolution for items such as needle exchange programs and methadone treatment for drug addicts, said officials at the meeting in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city.

New Zealand Health Minister Pete Hodgson, who is hosting WHO's annual conference of officials from the western Pacific region, said the US amendments would have watered down the resolution.

Negotiations failed to resolve differences over the wording of the resolution,

"So, having ascertained that no resolution would do no damage ... I put it to the meeting that we would be better off to have no resolution than one that was perceived to be weakened," Hodgson told reporters.

US officials at the conference declined to comment.

Hodgson said one of the issues US officials had sought to change was references to needle exchange programs for intravenous drug users -- which advocates say help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS through the sharing of syringes.

The US "position is that if they have needle exchanges then people will use needles more and use intravenous drugs more," Hodgson said.

"I think it is demonstrably wrong. New Zealand has had needle swaps for 20 years, it has been an amazing success," he added.

WHO's acting regional director, Richard Nesbit, confirmed the resolution had been withdrawn after US officials sought changes.

Senior health officials across the region had called for universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment and care by 2010.

UNAIDS estimated that 8.3 million people were living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, last year in the Asia-Pacific region, including South Asia. Nearly 85 percent of those infected had no access to anti-retroviral drug treatment, it said.

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