Ambitious Goal to End HIV/AIDS By 2030 Endorsed by UN – But Targets Threatened By Realities on the Ground
Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

UNAIDS hailed a new political roadmap to end HIV/AIDS by 2030 as a “major feat”, but admitted that its implementation would remain a challenge – along with devising ways to measure how inequalities in access to prevention and treatment are reduced for people and groups most at risk.

Addressing a UN press briefing on Thursday, following a two day high-level meeting, Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, said new plan geared towards actually ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic comes after decades in which major gains have been made, but sharp inequalities in access to treatment still exist. 

“We are at a critical moment in the AIDS response. HIV has been with us for 40 years now, ravaging communities. Since the start of the epidemic, more than 77 million people have been infected with HIV, and almost 35 million people have died,”  Byanyima said.

Despite opposition from Russia, UN Member States voted this week overwhelmingly in favour of the declaration which is a roadmap for combatting the disease over the coming years. Byanyima said the targets contained in the declaration were iprepared by UNAIDS using an “inequalities” lens.

“The [targets] are progressive, and will save lives if achieved. If all countries reach their targets, new infections will be reduced by 75% by 2025, the number of people dying from AIDS-related illnesses will be reduced by about 65%,” she said.

‘Business as usual will lead to failure’

Earlier this week, Health Policy Watch reported that the government of Russia, supported by Syria, Belarus and Nicaragua, had refused to support the consensus declaration — requesting additional changes on top of some 73 amendments in the text that had already been made to accommodate Russia’s concerns.  Those last-minute changes were ultimately rejected. 

Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of UNAIDS

Taking a veiled swipe at Russia’s demands to further delete or water down references to “rights”; the decriminalisation of sex work; and harm reduction in the context of the battle against HIV/AIDS, Byanyima said it was not easy to gain a global agreement from all countries with such diverse laws, policies and priorities. 

“But yet, this declaration is bold and ambitious. It pushes us further and asks us to measure the gaps that exist for certain groups of people, so that we can target them and close the gaps (inequalities) that prevent them from accessing the tools of science for prevention and for treatment. The targets are ambitious,” she said.

By 2025, the roadmap also aims to end mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Another target is to end legal and social discrimination against groups like sex workers and men that have sex with men, which ultimately fuels the HIV/AIDS epidemic by depriving them of access to vital preventive tools and treatment services. 

“We’re ensuring for the first time that less than 10% of countries have restrictive laws and policies that lead to the denial or limitation of access to services, that means decriminalization of same sex relationships. We want to bring it down to just 10%,” she added.

The declaration calls for a financial investment of $US 29 billion annually by 2025. Byanyima said: “We want to peak up to $29 billion by 2025. So I would say this is a bold and ambitious declaration.”

Building Community-led Health Responses

UN Press Briefing – Winnie Byanyima, first from left

In his remarks, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary General said that the significant achievements in the political declaration include a commitment to end all inequalities, which he said goes further than the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

“The 95-95-95 targets by 2025 for testing treatment and viral suppression, and a third significant achievement is that it is empowering communities in building community-led health responses,” Dujarric said.

He described this as “very profound and very significant” as it ensured human rights are woven through the declaration and said Russia and co’s failed attempt to remove some of the Human Rights references in the declaration was “resoundingly defeated”. 

“So, what we had with 165 member states voting for the final declaration was a very strong endorsement of a broad range of countries who were prepared to commit to a bold political declaration, which is a significant advance on the political declaration of 2016,” Dujarric said.

Image Credits: UN, WebTV UN.

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