Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for bolstered global efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS, stressing at the world’s largest forum on the pandemic that the virus impedes economic development and that discrimination against people living with HIV remains widespread.
“Most countries still have a long way to go to meet the goal” set two years ago at the General Assembly to move towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010, Mr. Ban said last night at the opening of the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City.
These nations will thus have difficulty in reaching the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of curbing and reversing the spread of AIDS by the target date of 2015, he noted.
The Secretary-General stressed that more resources are needed to combat the scourge in the coming decades as greater numbers of people receive treatment and live longer.
He welcomed the recent legislation passed in the United States earmarking $48 billion to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria over the next five years, and praised the commitment of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized nations to provide universal access to HIV prevention and treatment by 2010.
“Just as important, in most countries, stigma against people living with HIV remains a grave challenge,” Mr. Ban told the Conference. One third of countries lack laws to protect those living with HIV, and in many places, discrimination against women, men who have sex with men, sex workers, drug users and ethnic minorities is still legal.
“This must change,” he said, calling for an end to discrimination against people living HIV and members of vulnerable groups.
Since taking up the post in January 2007, the Secretary-General said that some of his most moving and inspiring experiences have been meeting with colleagues and others living with the virus.
“They are wonderfully courageous and motivated people, and should serve as an example to us all on how to act with dignity in the face of adversity,” he said. “That they should be discriminated against, including through restrictions on their ability to travel between countries, should fill us with shame.”
In those nations with legal protections in place, Mr. Ban pointed out that those living with HIV have greater access to services, resulting in fewer infections, less demand for anti-retroviral treatment and fewer deaths.
Right before he spoke, Keren Jamina Dunaway-Gonzalez, a HIV-positive 11-year-old from Honduras, addressed the Conference. After discussing the problems she faces as a young girl with HIV, she greeted the Secretary-General, whom she had met earlier this year, and gave him a kiss.
Also addressing the Conference last night was Peter Piot, the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). He told participants that, for the first time, the world was witnessing large-scale results, with fewer people dying of AIDS and fewer becoming infected with HIV.
“This is cause for encouragement. But not cause for complacency, nor for declaring victory,” he added. “Because the end of AIDS is nowhere in sight. Every day, almost three times as many people become newly infected with HIV as those who start taking antiretroviral treatment.”
Dr. Piot quoted Caribbean singer and poet Bob Marley, telling the audience, “Get up, stand up… don’t give up the fight.”
Margaret Chan, Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), said she found it appropriate that the Conference is hosted in Latin America. Many countries in the region have a long tradition of embracing the principle of equitable access to health care as a fundamental human right. The future of the AIDS response rests on this foundation, she said.
As part of his three-day visit to Mexico, which kicked off yesterday, the Secretary-General met last night with the UN Country Team, who surprised him with a mariachi band during a town hall meeting. Mr. Ban sang along as the band played Besame Mucho and Canta No Llores.
This morning the Secretary-General held a working breakfast with the Global Compact’s Mexico network.
He also addressed an extraordinary session of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, known by its Spanish acronym OPANAL, stating that international efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation and achieve nuclear disarmament continue to face significant challenges.
“Some of the nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties have not yet entered into force. Several signatories have yet to complete the ratification or accession process… whole regions have been unable to establish such zones, including the Middle East. And some nuclear-weapon States have not concluded the relevant Protocols,” he noted. “Clearly, there is still much work to do before we achieve our shared goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.”
Also today, he will be meeting separately with Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa and President Felipe Calderón.
He will also address a joint session of the Mexican Parliament and meet with HIV-positive civil society leaders at a side event of the International AIDS Conference.