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Op-ed by Amb. Tobias & UNAIDS Director Peter Piotl

Joint Op-ed by Ambassador Tobias and UNAIDS Director Peter Piotl

Houston Chronicle
Houston, Texas
November 30, 2004

The one place fight against AIDS will yield real results

Focus intensifies on new faces of disease - emales

By RANDALL TOBIAS and PETER PIOT

In 1988, when World AIDS Day began, 10 million people worldwide were living with AIDS. Today, nearly 40 million men, women and children are HIV positive. Each day, 8,000 people die of AIDS and 14,000 more become infected.

Africa still carries the greatest burden, but increasingly the new faces of AIDS are Eastern European and Asian. In addition, the number of women with HIV has risen in every region of the world -- and now nearly half of all those living with HIV are female. That's why World AIDS Day this year is focused on women and girls.

AIDS is a grave threat to human development and security, unprecedented in modern human history. Regaining lost ground requires an unprecedented response from all sectors of society -- all across the globe.

As we reflect on this World AIDS Day, there is reason for hope. Over the past three years, global funding for the fight against AIDS in low-income countries has nearly tripled, reaching $6.1 billion in 2004. These resources have helped increase access to critical antiretroviral therapy, voluntary counseling and testing, AIDS education and programs to prevent mother-to-child transmission.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is the main advocate for global action -- leading, supporting and strengthening the expanded overall response. The increased resources provided and the leadership engendered by the largest AIDS donor, the United States, through President Bush's $15 billion Emergency Plan, have been instrumental in building global momentum. The establishment and vital expansion of the Global Fund, other bilateral efforts and increased investments of low-income countries themselves have also been crucial to our collective progress.

Yet much more remains to be done in 2005. Today only one in 10 people living with AIDS has access to lifesaving treatments -- and less than one in five have access to proven prevention options. To maintain our momentum, the global community must redouble its efforts, and move from calls to action to greater action itself. The world has a responsibility to increase our investments and do more to make the money work for people.

To that end, UNAIDS spearheaded a historic global agreement on three key principles for supporting country-driven action against AIDS. The United States and the United Kingdom were instrumental in its adoption and are central to its implementation.

Known as the "Three Ones," these principles aim to ensure that as each country tackles AIDS, we all work with -- one national strategy, one national coordinating body, and one monitoring and evaluation system to track progress and achieve results -- unique to that country.

The Three Ones provide a much needed system of accountability, and ensure that donors work closely with host countries to build a more effective AIDS response. But the true test will come in the application of these principles in countries around the world over the long haul ahead. Investing today in the helping hands of tomorrow will build hope and capacity for the future.

In addition, to realize the goals outlined in the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS adopted by 189 countries in 2001 and the president's Emergency Plan, we must intensify our focus on women and girls, who are often the fabric of family and society. If there is one place in this epidemic where our efforts will yield real results, this is it.

We support the ABC prevention strategy -- Abstain, Be Faithful, use Condoms -- but know that AIDS cannot be defeated by just these three means alone. Women are getting infected more than men not only because they lack essential AIDS information, but because they lack social and economic power. Empowering women and girls to protect themselves and their families from AIDS is vital to turning the tide.

We are partnering with communities to find local solutions to the sexual coercion and exploitation of women and girls. To ensure that the problems women face are addressed from every possible angle, we are investing AIDS funds in successful counseling and violence prevention programs aimed at men and boys to help them develop healthier relationships with women, and in enhancing women's economic security.

As a global community, what unites us in our response to AIDS is far more powerful than what divides us. Our hope is that recent signs of progress will send a powerful message that change is possible -- in fact, it is happening.

Let's use the occasion of World AIDS Day to pledge a year of collective achievement. When we gather next December, let's ensure that we will have more effectively translated our opportunities into concrete progress, our good intentions into concerted action -- where it matters most -- in villages and communities all over the world.

All of us share a great responsibility, and time is short.

[Tobias is the United States Global AIDS coordinator. Piot is the executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).] [End]

Released on November 30, 2004


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