UNAIDS chief calls on Canada to ensure G8 delivers on universal access pledges

1 March 2010

A top United Nations official has called on the Prime Minister of Canada, as host of this June’s summit of the Group of Eight (G8) leaders, to ensure that the group delivers on its commitment to universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

“As the host, Prime Minister Stephen Harper can set a bold agenda for the summit. The G8 commitment to universal access must be fulfilled,” Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said last week during a global summit on HIV held in Vancouver against the backdrop of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

“Imagine if we could harness the shared energy, creativity and goodwill of the Olympic Games for other social goods. What stops us from engendering a similar response to the greatest transnational social challenge of our era – AIDS?

“What if we could promise public glory for those individuals, communities and countries that perform best? This is what I imagine the world will feel like when we unite to commemorate the end of the AIDS epidemic,” stated Mr. Sidibé.

The UNAIDS chief noted that the global AIDS response is at a “tipping point,” and it is unacceptable that, almost 30 years since the start of the epidemic, over 7,400 people are newly infected with HIV every day, and almost 5,500 people die of AIDS.

“With five people newly infected for every two starting treatment, we have yet to break the trajectory of the epidemic,” he said. “Today we are still far from extending treatment to all those that need it. The number of new infections continues to outpace our efforts to stop the spread of HIV.

“Clearly, the status quo is failing, and nothing less than a quantum leap is needed to build on the progress made so far and to extend hope to millions of people whose lives depend on it.”

Mr. Sidibé added that UNAIDS will convene a forum this year to focus on what it is calling ‘Treatment 2.0’ – the next generation of HIV treatment. “I believe that together we can think outside our traditional viewpoints and come up with a new, comprehensive and sustainable approach to treatment,” he stated.

The 26 February meeting was organized by Dr. Julio Montaner, Director of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and President of the International AIDS Society.

Dr. Montaner described British Columbia’s ambitious $48 million pilot programme to send health-care workers onto the streets of Vancouver to diagnose and treat hard-to-reach populations such as people who inject drugs, using early treatment as an aggressive form of prevention.

The programme, called “Seek and Treat,” will improve access to treatment to the populations that are still disproportionately affected by HIV in Vancouver.

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