As scientists, world leaders, activists and others gather in Toronto for the XVI International AIDS conference, the head of the UN agency responding to the disease today said it is time to move the world’s response to the epidemic to the next level by expanding the current crisis management model into a sustainable response plan that looks to the next 25 years and beyond.
“We will set ourselves up for demoralization and indeed for failure if we base our strategies on wishful thinking that the end of AIDS can be achieved any time soon,” said Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). “Tragically, the end of AIDS is nowhere in sight.
Dr. Piot also delivered a message to the conference from Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who said it was important to sustain the momentum of the High-Level Meeting of the UN General Assembly earlier this year. The declaration adopted there pledged renewed efforts to tackle the causes of the epidemic and the forces that propel it, especially by increasing protection for vulnerable groups.
“This is a pivotal moment. After an unconscionably late start that cost tens of millions of lives and tore apart hundreds of millions more, the world’s response has finally gained real strength,” said Mr. Annan, who has personally championed efforts to halt the spread of the virus and treat those who have been infected or become ill.
“We need to accelerate this process,” he declared.
The theme of the XVI International Conference on HIV and AIDS, which is taking place from 13 to 18 August, is “Time to Deliver,” underscoring the urgency of effective HIV prevention, care and treatment as well as the need for increased accountability from individuals, governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies.
Among the conference’s major themes is the need for the global AIDS response to focus on women and girls. Dr. Piot said it is important to address the social factors that continue to drive the epidemic, especially the low status of women, homophobia, HIV-related stigma, poverty and inequality.
“An AIDS response that is not as embedded in advancing social justice as in advancing science is doomed to failure,” he said.
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah, who is leading her agency’s delegation to the conference, said this week’s discussions were critical for children, who were still largely missing from positive reports on the global fight against HIV and AIDS. She called on world leaders to deliver an “AIDS-free” generation.
“A whole generation of young people today has never known a world free of HIV/AIDS,” said Ms. Salah. “It is a disease that has redefined childhood, forcing many of them to grow up alone, too fast and in many cases, sadly, not at all.”