UNITED NATIONS – World leaders on Friday declared HIV “an unprecedented human catastrophe” and adopted new targets to combat the epidemic, including providing drug treatment to 15 million people by 2015.
A political declaration hammered out after seven weeks of difficult negotiations was adopted by consensus by the U.N. General Assembly at the end of a three-day high-level meeting to spotlight successes in tackling HIV/AIDS and the need to intensify the fight.
It commits the U.N.’s 192 member states to cut in half the transmission of HIV through sexual activity and injecting drugs by 2015 – and to ensure that all babies are born HIV-free by that date.
“The world has watched as we forged a new declaration that will shape the endgame of the AIDS epidemic,” General Assembly President Joseph Deiss told the leaders, ministers and diplomats after banging his gavel to signify the declaration’s adoption by consensus.
Funding to combat AIDS increased eightfold, from $1.8 billion in 2001 to $16 billion in 2010, but the U.N. agency to combat AIDS says between $22 billion and $24 billion is needed to address the magnitude of the crisis and respond to global demands for prevention, treatment and fighting discrimination against HIV sufferers.
The declaration commits nations to work to find the additional $6 billion needed annually by 2015 to close the funding gap.
A UNAIDS report released last week said the last decade has seen a nearly 25 percent decline in new HIV infections, a reduction in AIDS-related deaths, and “unprecedented advances” in access to treatment, prevention services and care. But it said more than 34 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2010 – including 2.6 million who became newly infected in 2009.
Professor Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said the message from this week’s meeting is that it is now possible “to treat millions of people at large scale in the poorest settings of the world with antiretroviral drugs,” and that prevention is effective.
Sharoann Lynch of Doctors Without Borders said that by approving the declaration, “governments just put themselves on the hook for treating 15 million people by 2015 and paying for it.”
After the vote, several Muslim and Roman Catholic nations expressed concern about the declaration’s efforts to define the groups most vulnerable to getting infected by the HIV virus, including homosexuals, sex workers and intravenous drug users. These countries had tried to water down such references during negotiations.
Iran’s representative expressed concern that listing vulnerable groups appeared to promote “unethical behavior.”