Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today said much more remained to be done in the fight against HIV/AIDS despite the significant progress made in reducing the spread of the disease and providing treatment to those infected.
In a speech to the General Assembly’s plenary meeting on HIV/AIIDS, delivered on his behalf by Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, Mr. Ban said the challenges that must be overcome to control the epidemic include eliminating social and legal impediments to human rights that prevent effective response to HIV/AIDS in many countries.
“Individuals most at risk of HIV infection – men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and sex workers – are pushed to the margins, instead of being constructively engaged,” Mr. Ban said, citing one of the challenges that rendered the fight against the epidemic less effective.
He said that while it was recognized that the world must do more to improve maternal health care, not enough attention was paid to the fact that HIV is one of the leading causes of death among women of reproductive age worldwide.
“Universal access means more than ensuring that those who need treatment or prevention services receive them. It implies an extra effort to reach those who are marginalized, criminalized or disenfranchised,” Mr. Ban added.
Achievements in recent years include the reduction of the rates of new infections worldwide by 17 per cent since 2001, and the fact that more than four million people in low- and middle-income countries have gained access to antiretroviral therapy.
New methods of eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission have also been developed, the Secretary-General said.
“We are also confronting stigma and discrimination. This can be seen in the lifting of decades-old travel restrictions against people living with HIV by several countries,” he added.
Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said that although four million infected people in poorer countries were now receiving antiretroviral treatments, there were five new infections for every two patients put on therapy, stressing the need to continue awareness campaigns especially among younger people.
Special focus must also be directed at protecting women against the disease.
“This epidemic unfortunately remains an epidemic of women,” Mr. Sidibé told reporters in New York, saying that 16 million women across world are infected, while another 850,000 die of the disease every year.