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On World AIDS Day, UN leaders underline need for accountability

On World AIDS Day, UN leaders underline need for accountability

Dr. Peter Piot of UNAIDS
Stressing this year’s theme of accountability, senior officials from across the United Nations system have marked World AIDS Day with calls for international leaders to maintain recent momentum and make good on their promises to ensure greater access to treatment, prevention and support.

“The latest global AIDS figures give us reason for concern and for some hope,” said Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, (UNAIDS), in one of a series of messages today by the heads of UN organs and agencies.

Almost 40 million people live with HIV and another 4.3 million will be infected this year, while at least 25 million others have died from AIDS-related diseases in the 25 years since the first case was reported. The pandemic is now the leading cause of death among both men and women aged between 15 and 59.

Yet the number of countries providing antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to sufferers and the breadth of access to HIV testing, counselling services and health care have also continued to expand, including in sub-Saharan Africa, the region hardest hit by AIDS.

“However, we must increase the scale and impact of HIV prevention activities, including those directed at the drivers of the epidemic,” Dr. Piot said. “New data show that HIV prevention programmes have better results if focused on reaching people most at risk and adapted to changing national epidemics.”

General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa said the theme of accountability applied to everyone, from world leaders who have previously vowed to improve reproductive health care services and information, particularly for women, to individuals who can help establish healthy behaviour when their children are young.

“The challenge for all of us is to make good on our commitments and work in closer partnership towards our common goal. Civil society, NGOs [non-governmental organizations], the media, private sector and faith groups have an important role in promoting public awareness and holding leaders to account for their promises,” she said.

Anders Nordström, Acting Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), said the international community had reached “a critical juncture” and needed to become smarter and more adaptable as it responded to HIV/AIDS.

“We have to be… aware of which approaches are successful, and flexible enough to adapt our resources accordingly,” Dr. Nordström said. “We do not just need ‘more.’ We need to commit to clear-sightedness about what is working and what is not – and quickly apply that knowledge.”

Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), warned against the stigmatization and marginalization of people living with HIV/AIDS, especially women, young people, injecting drug users, prisoners and victims of human trafficking – all groups that are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic.

The UN Population Fund’s (UNFPA) Executive Director, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, saw signs of hope among the young, noting that HIV prevalence rates among youth have fallen in several countries because of increased condom use and other behavioural changes.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said it was vital that Member States are made to live up to their earlier commitments to eventually provide universal access to comprehensive prevention programmes, treatment, care and support by 2010.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said it was important to recognize that combating HIV/AIDS is linked to resolving other key global challenges, from promoting economic development and fighting poverty in poorer countries to encouraging gender equality to supporting environmental sustainability.

Numerous events are being staged around the world today to draw attention to the pandemic and to some of the ways that individuals can help to reduce or ameliorate its impact on communities.

In New York, Drawing IT Out, an exhibition of 300 cartoons drawn by artists, in 50 countries opened at UN Headquarters. The event is sponsored by UNAIDS, the Brazilian Ministry of Health and the International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region.