Sun, Jun 12, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Fractious UN summit adopts AIDS targets

AFP, UNITED NATIONS

Demonstrator Bryan Fleury wears a hat adorned with condoms at a rally outside the UN’s High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS at UN headquarters in New York City on Wednesday. Activists from Doctors Without Borders and other organizations rallied to call for full funding for worldwide treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS.

Photo: AFP

A UN summit on Friday ordered a huge expansion in AIDS treatment, but sparked protests by the Vatican and some Muslim nations over its endorsement of condoms and calls to help prostitutes, gays and drug users.

The three-day summit to mark the 30th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS set the target of more than doubling the number of people on retroviral treatment to 15 million by 2015. It said mother-to-child AIDS transmissions should also be eliminated by then.

“We must win our battle against AIDS and we will,” UN General Assembly President Joseph Deiss said, after the declaration was agreed by consensus by UN members.

About 34 million people around the world have the disease, 1.8 million die from it each year and there are 7,000 new infections each day.

However, UN countries committed “to accelerate efforts to achieve the goal of universal access” to retroviral treatment.

They aim to place 15 million HIV sufferers in the poorest countries on life-extending drugs by 2015. About 6.6 million people currently receive treatment, according to UN figures.

The accord also aims to end mother-to-child HIV infection by 2015 and increase preventative measures for the “most vulnerable populations.”

Health groups welcomed the declaration, but said the international community must now commit the necessary funds to pay for the targets.

The summit did not make financial commitments. The UN estimates the international community will have to find US$6 billion a year to get the extra 9 million sufferers onto retroviral treatment.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the setting of “clear and measurable targets,” a spokesman said. He called this “an absolute imperative if we are to succeed in realizing our vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.”

Britain’s International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien said the reluctance to commit to firm figures did not mean the targets would not be met.

“Yes it is stretching, yes it is tough and yes it is going to be difficult, it will be a rocky road, but it’s worth going for and we are not going to dilute the ambition,” he said.

The final document makes the most explicit reference yet by a UN summit document to the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS and also calls for greater help prostitutes, gays and drug users.

There was fierce debate about the wording in weeks of negotiations on the final document, with strong opposition from the Vatican and Muslim nations such as Iran, diplomats involved with the talks said.

Instead of talking simply about the importance of abstinence and fidelity, the statement stresses the “correct and consistent use of condoms.”

“It is important to point out the reference to key populations in this declaration such as men that have sex with men, sex workers, injecting drug users,” Brazilian Health Minister Alexandre Padilha said.

Padilha said the rights of transgenders, transvestites and prisoners also had to be defended.

The Vatican’s delegate was jeered by activists in the General Assembly, when she opposed the mention of condoms and the “high risk” population sectors.

“They can give the impression that certain types of irresponsible behavior are morally acceptable. The Holy See does not endorse the use of condoms as part of HIV and AIDS prevention programs,” the delegate Jane Adolthe said.

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