UN chief urges ‘bold’ action to transform global AIDS response

31 March 2011

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged world leaders to take bold decisions to tackle the AIDS epidemic, as he launched a new United Nations report that warns that recent gains, while laudable, are fragile.

The report, “Uniting for universal access: towards zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths,” comes 30 years into the AIDS epidemic and just months ahead of a high-level meeting of the General Assembly in June on the issue.

“Ten years ago, the international community came together at the General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS and set targets for the year 2010. Now it is time to take a hard look at where we failed … where we succeeded … and why,” Mr. Ban said at the launch of the report in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

The report, based on data from 182 countries, highlights that the global rate of new HIV infections is declining, treatment access is expanding and the world has made significant strides in reducing HIV transmission from mother to child.

For example, between 2001 and 2009, the rate of new HIV infections in 33 countries – including 22 in sub-Saharan Africa – fell by at least 25 per cent. By the end of 2010, more than 6 million people were on antiretroviral treatment in low- and middle-income countries. And for the first time, in 2009, global coverage of services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV exceeded 50 per cent.

Despite these achievements, the report underscores that the gains are fragile. For every person who starts antiretroviral treatment, two people become newly infected with HIV, and every day 7,000 people are newly infected, including 1,000 children.

“Thirty years into the epidemic, it is imperative for us to re-energise the response today for success in the years ahead,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), who joined Mr. Ban for the launch of the report.

“Gains in HIV prevention and antiretroviral treatment are significant, but we need to do more to stop people from becoming infected – an HIV prevention revolution is needed now more than ever,” he added.

The Secretary-General recommends five actions in the report to strengthen the AIDS response, including harnessing the energy of young people for an HIV prevention revolution and revitalizing the push towards achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2015.

He also recommends working with countries to make HIV programmes more cost effective, efficient and sustainable; promoting the health, human rights and dignity of women and girls; and ensuring mutual accountability in the AIDS response to translate commitments into action.

“World leaders have a unique opportunity at this critical moment to evaluate achievements and gaps in the global AIDS response,” said Mr. Ban. “We must take bold decisions that will dramatically transform the AIDS response and help us move towards an HIV-free generation.”

He calls on all stakeholders to support the recommendations in the report and use them to work towards realizing six global targets. The first is to reduce by 50 per cent the sexual transmission of HIV – including among key populations, such as young people, men who have sex with men, in the context of sex work; and prevent all new HIV infections as a result of injecting drug use.

The other goals are to eliminate HIV transmission from mother to child; reduce by 50 per cent tuberculosis deaths in people living with HIV; ensure HIV treatment for 13 million people; reduce by 50 per cent the number of countries with HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay and residence; and ensure equal access to education for children orphaned and made vulnerable by AIDS.

The report also encourages countries to prioritize funding for HIV programmes, especially in light of the fact that international funding for HIV assistance declined for the first time in 2009.

“The HIV response faces a moment of truth,” Mr. Ban writes in his report. “This year, we have a unique opportunity to take stock of progress and to critically and honestly assess the barriers that keep us shackled to a reality in which the epidemic continues to outpace the response.”

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