The United Nations General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved a statement calling for urgent action to end AIDS by 2030, signaling “with alarm” that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities and further reduced access to AIDS medications, treatments and diagnoses.
The statement made Tuesday night contains targets for countries to reach 95 percent of those in risk groups with HIV prevention options and treat 95 percent of those who know they have HIV.
It was adopted with 165 votes in favor and four against, after objections to the text from four countries: Russia, Belarus, Nicaragua and Syria.
“In the midst of the aftermath of the COVID crisis, we could even see a resurgence of the pandemic,” said Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director, at the high-level meeting in New York.
“But a never ending HIV pandemic is not our destiny,” he continued. “Even despite all the setbacks, we can end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 as we promised, if the world unites.”
Russia failed in an attempt to eliminate language that it said pushed countries to decriminalize prostitution and drug use.
Russia told the General Assembly that, under the “pretext” of combating discrimination, several paragraphs “attempt to directly interfere with national legislation by repealing so-called restrictive and discriminatory laws.”
“As we see in the global strategy against AIDS 2021 to 2026, UNAIDS considers that these include laws that somehow prosecute prostitution and drug use,” said Russia’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN Dmitry Chumakov.
Australian Ambassador to the UN Mitch Fifield, who led the declaration negotiations with Namibia, rejected Russia, saying that “reforming laws and policies to ensure they are evidence-based and human rights-based is essential for an effective response to HIV. “.
The high-level meeting comes days after the 40th anniversary of the first report that drew public attention to AIDS.
The declaration commits the assembly’s 193 member countries to implement the 18-page document, including reducing annual new HIV infections to less than 370,000 and annual AIDS-related deaths to less than 250,000 by 2025.
It also calls for progress to be made towards eliminating all forms of HIV-related stigma and discrimination and for urgent work towards an HIV vaccine and a cure for AIDS.
Without a large increase in resources and coverage for the vulnerable and infected, “we will not end the AIDS epidemic by 2030,” the assembly warned.
Setbacks in the fight against AIDS
He said the coronavirus pandemic has created setbacks in the fight against AIDS, “widening the dividing lines within a deeply unequal world and exposing the dangers of underinvestment in public health, health systems and other essential public services for all and preparedness for a pandemic “.
While the international investment response to the pandemic is inadequate, it is unprecedented, the assembly said. The coronavirus response of many nations has demonstrated “the potential and urgency for increased investment” to respond to pandemics, underscoring “the imperative of increased investment for public health systems, including responses to HIV and other diseases in the future, “he said.
Shannon Hader, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, believes that more equitable access to medicines and services is key in the fight against HIV.
“One reason there are disparities in the response to HIV may be that services are not provided in a way that is useful and accessible to the people who need it most,” Hader told Al Jazeera.
“But other reasons may really be because the legal framework, violence, gender inequality are such that there are social barriers for the most affected people, who also access services and are empowered to take HIV prevention measures”, added.
Called to accelerate innovations
Byanyima, who called AIDS “one of the deadliest pandemics of modern times,” said 77.5 million people have been infected with HIV since the first case was reported in 1981 and nearly 35 million have died from AIDS.
He said COVID-19 showed that science moves “at the speed of political will” and called for accelerating spending on innovations for AIDS treatment, prevention, care and vaccines “as global public goods.”
“HIV rates are not on track that we promised together,” he said.
On the positive side, the assembly statement said that since 2001 there has been a 54 percent reduction in AIDS-related deaths and a 37 percent reduction in HIV infections globally, but cautioned that ” overall progress has slowed dangerously since 2016. “
The assembly expressed “deep concern” that there were 1.7 million new infections in 2019 compared to the 2020 global target of fewer than 500,000 infections and that new HIV infections have increased in at least 33 countries since 2016.