Nations committed to nearly doubling the number of people who receive life-saving HIV treatment over the next five years as a high-level UN conference devoted to ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 drew to a close on Friday.
During the three-day-long meeting, the UN’s 193-member states also committed for the first time to monitoring the quality of treatment, with a goal of getting 90 percent of those receiving anti-retroviral medicine to reduce their viral load to the point where it is undetectable — something that improves quality of life and reduces the risk of transmission.
“It is a paradigm shift. What it is going to do is put the focus on quality. Instead of how many people have access to treatment now, it is for how many people is the treatment working properly,” Medecins Sans Frontiers HIV and tuberculosis policy adviser Sharonann Lynch said.
Last year, there were about 36.7 million people worldwide living with HIV and about 17 million of them have access to anti-retroviral medication, according to the UN
At the conference, nations also committed to reducing the number of new HIV infections to less than 500,000 a year by 2020, down from 2.1 million last year, and bringing the number of annual AIDS-related deaths to less than 500,000 in 2020 from 1.1 million last year.
“Today is the day that we collectively say that we will end the AIDS epidemic by 2030,” UN General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft said. “We must pay greater attention to equality and inclusion, uphold human rights and speak out against stigma and discrimination.”
The UN is now looking to raise US$13 billion over the next three years in support of these goals.
Conference organizers said while remarkable progress has been made since the last UN meeting on AIDS in 2011, much remains to be done.
“For the first time in history, we can say that in Africa there are more people on HIV treatment than there are new HIV infections,” UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe said.
Still, the number of new HIV infections among adults has remained mostly unchanged since 2010 and key populations like young women, sex workers, prisoners, gay men, transgender people and intravenous drug users continued to be left behind.
On Thursday, the US announced it would start a new US$100 million Key Populations Investment Fund, intended to reach these people most at risk.
“Too many leaders say they support the end of AIDS and claim to stand with the people facing the life-threatening effects of bigotry and discrimination on full display during this week’s negotiations, but for many governments these are just words — they fail to take action where it counts,” Health Global Access Project executive director Asia Russell said in a statement.
“We are therefore heartened to see the US government pledging funding to directly confront the human rights violations that keep quality, evidence based prevention and treatment services from key populations around the world,” Russell added.
Cultural sensitivities continue to be an obstacle to combating the disease, UN officials said, with a number of non-governmental organizations representing gay and transgender people excluded from attending the conference after a number of conservative nations objected to their presence.
Those nations also were accused by many anti-AIDS groups of working to weaken the final outcome document.
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