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Special UN meeting on AIDS: New national targets

Special UN meeting on fighting AIDS promises to set new national targets

The special United Nations General Assembly meeting to assess the progress made in combating AIDS since it issued its Declaration of Commitment to a comprehensive battle against the pandemic five years ago ended today with a pledge to set “ambitious national targets” this year, including interim targets for 2008.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan immediately hailed the results. “The Secretary-General applauds the adoption of the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS by the High Level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly,” his spokesman said.

“He is particularly heartened that with this Declaration, Governments have committed themselves to actions to promote gender equality, the empowerment of women and the protection of girls; respect for the full rights of people living with HIV/AIDS; strengthened protection for all vulnerable groups -- whether young people, sex workers, injecting drug users, or men who have sex with men; provision of the full range of HIV prevention measures, including male and female condoms and sterile injection equipment; and the full engagement in the response of the private sector and civil society, including people living with HIV."

Mr. Annan also “warmly welcomes the call for $20 to $23 billion to be spent on the response to HIV/AIDS by 2010,” his spokesman said.

“The Secretary-General hopes that with this Declaration, world leaders have finally placed on the record the personal commitment and leadership needed to win the fight against HIV/AIDS -- the greatest challenge of our generation.”

The three days of discussion, divided into a technical review for the first two days and a high-level segment today, also had to consider recommendations on how to reach targets, including universal access to materials for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, and to renew political commitment to the centrality of the 2001 Declaration of Commitment, seen as a dramatic turning-point in the global response to the disease.

Harking back to the previous declaration, subtitled “Global Crisis-Global Action,” with targets set mainly for 2003 and 2005, the Assembly said in its new consensus document that members reaffirmed their commitment to achieve the internationally agreed development goals and objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for 2015, “and, in particular, the goal to halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and major diseases.”

The 2006 Declaration calls for the development of improved drugs, diagnostics and prevention technologies, including vaccines and microbicides, and reaffirms that the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) does not prevent countries from protecting the public health by producing generic drugs.

As noted by Mr. Annan, it also calls for $20 billion to $23 billion for the AIDS response by 2010.

The 2006 Declaration also promotes the protection of human rights, gender equality and the education and empowerment of women and young people, especially girls, to reduce their vulnerability to HIV.

It calls on Member States to strengthen efforts to combat stigma and social exclusion connected with the epidemic, endorsing full rights to education, inheritance, employment, health care, social and health services, legal protection and HIV information, prevention, support, and treatment for people living with or vulnerable to the virus.

It emphasizes once more that prevention of infection must be the mainstay of all responses and therefore Members States “commit to intensify efforts to ensure that a wide range of prevention programmes which take account of local circumstances, ethics and cultural values is available in all countries, particularly the mot affected countries.”

Information, education and communication should be made available in languages most understood by these communities and respectful of cultures, while aimed at reducing risk-taking behaviours and encouraging responsible sexual behaviour, including abstinence and fidelity.

Access to essential life-saving commodities, including male and female condoms, harm-reduction related to drug use, safe blood supplies and early and effective treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) were among the declaration's other demands.

“This Declaration moves the global response to AIDS a significant step forward by acknowledging both the need for AIDS crisis management today and for a sustained, long-term response to AIDS in the years to come,” the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Dr. Peter Piot, said.

“Member States took on the difficult issues brought forward by country constituencies and civil society this week. The result is a strong declaration that endorses strong national targets, comprehensive HIV prevention strategies and protection for all people at risk for HIV.”

General Assembly President Jan Eliasson of Sweden said Governments must make good on their pledges. “The true test of this Declaration's worth will be the extent to which you all go back to your countries and implement it with a sense of urgency and purpose,” he said.

“My call to you now is this: take this Declaration, and take the new spirit and understanding of these three days, back to your countries, and implement it. I would hope that we can all use this new energy to translate this Declaration into action, to make a difference between life and death for many, and give a life in dignity for all affected by HIV/AIDS.”

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