Top United Nations officials have marked World AIDS Day today by calling for vigilant efforts to build on earlier successes in the fight against the global epidemic and stressed the need to eliminate discrimination against sufferers of the disease.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed to the many positive steps made in tackling HIV/AIDS, including increased government support for universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support. But he cautioned that “this is just the beginning,” adding that “AIDS will not go away any time soon.”
In his message for the Day – which is marking its 20th anniversary this year – Mr. Ban called for sustained leadership and bolstered resources.
“The need to lead, empower and deliver on AIDS is as real and urgent as ever,” he said, noting the need to stamp out discrimination that prevents people from seeking treatment.
Echoing the Secretary-General’s call for an end to intolerance, Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, pointed out that “27 years after AIDS was first identified, stigma against people living with HIV is as strong as it ever was.”
She said people are driven underground by a combination of punitive laws on the disclosure of HIV status, the criminalization of HIV transmission, and travel bans for people with the disease, among others.
“Like all people, these groups are entitled to the right to health and the full enjoyment of their human rights even though they may engage in activities that are criminalized in some countries,” Ms. Pillay said in a statement.
“AIDS thrives on injustice and inequality,” she said, urging a human rights-based response to prevent infections and mitigate the impact of HIV.
Viewing the issue through the lens of women’s rights, Inés Alberdi, Executive Director of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), appealed for equal treatment for every woman.
“Imagine a world where every woman, young and old, lives without fear or violence, stigma or dispossession if she decides to seek an HIV test, or treat, or support or information,” she said.
To make such a world a reality, women’s equal access to prevention and care must be ensured, Ms. Alberdi said.
General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto added his voice to those marking the Day, noting that the simple facts that 2.5 million people were infected with HIV last year, and another 2.1 million died of AIDSaround the world underscore the huge amount of work that remains to be done.
“Let us draw on the deep reservoirs of compassion that are within each of us to sustain our determination to conquer this disease and to care for its many victims. Let us stand together in this determination and in solidarity,” he declared.
In a separate message commemorating the Day, the head of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) said that the epidemic had severely undermined the ability of many countries to meet development challenges, as nine out of every 10 people living with HIV are adults in their “productive prime.”
“They have been deprived of skilled and experience teachers, managers, farmers, factory workers, government officials, care providers and so many others,” said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia.
Mr. Somavia also warned that the current financial and economic turmoil facing much of the world will put pressure on the hard-earned gains won in the battle against HIV/AIDS.
“The loss of a job, for example, may mean the end of vital HIV treatment. The loss of income in an AIDS-affected household may lead to children being taken out of school and put to work. Layoffs may be used to hide or excuse HIV-related discrimination.”
In a related development, the UN-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria today announced that 2 million people living with HIV have received life-saving anti-retroviral treatment, surging over 40 per cent over last year’s results.
The Fund provides almost one quarter of all global resources to fight the disease, and it reported today that 62 million HIV counselling and testing sessions have been delivered to people, while 3.2 million AIDS orphans and vulnerable children have received basic care and support.
It also reported successes in its fight against TB and malaria, with the number of people being treated for these two diseases having increased by nearly 40 per cent and over 50 per cent, respectively.
The Fund also announced today that France’s First Lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, will serve as its Global Ambassador for the protection of mothers and children against AIDS.
“She will be giving a strong voice for the needs of a group who often are not heard on their own,” said Michel Kazatchkine, the Fund’s Executive Director, adding that Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy will be drawing special attention to the need to give pregnant women and their children the means to prevent HIV infection and to fight the disease.