… is far short of civil society expectations. The UN declaration reviewing global progress on HIV/AIDS released on Friday has failed to win the endorsement of civil society groups, disappointed by the lack of ambition in the text.
AIDS activists were still trying to enlist the help of sympathetic country delegations to strengthen language in the draft document on targets, affirmation of the rights of women and girls, “harm reduction” measures for injecting drug users, and recognition of the needs of other vulnerable groups such as sex workers, prisoners and migrants.
In a statement, a coalition of AIDS activists representing more than 100 organisations said a draft of the political declaration “fell far short of expectations at a time when 8,000 people a day die of AIDS globally”.
The declaration negotiated at the UN High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS was always going to be a compromise between conservative governments and those demanding a bolder response to halt the epidemic, including reaching out to marginalised groups.
During three days of meetings in New York, NGOs urged governments to make a commitment that would mark a real and measurable step forward from the agreement reached at the 2001 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on HIV/AIDS.
The UNGASS document was anchored to a list of goals, which most governments failed woefully to achieve. But no clearly defined targets or timeframes have been included in the high-level report, negotiated between regional delegations and two UN General Assembly co-chairs, who, activists pointed out, had no specific experience in HIV/AIDS.
Although the declaration recognises that US$20 billion to $23 billion a year will be needed by 2010 to support “rapidly scaled-up AIDS responses” in developing countries, it aims to only “come as close as possible” to universal access to prevention, treatment and care.
“That is an escape clause to achieving universal access by 2010,” said Sisonke Msimang, HIV/AIDS programme manager for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.
But Michel Sidibe, director of the Department of Country and Regional Support at UNAIDS, was more upbeat over the opportunity presented by the conference. “The world wants by 2010 to be as close as possible to universal access. It’s a huge task, but not a dream – it requires better coordination of funding, provision of services and a well-costed, evidence-based planning system.”
Five years on from UNGASS 2001, he regarded the “strong voice of civil society” at the conference as a “breakthrough” in achieving critical partnerships at national level, while universal access marked an opportunity to “move from crisis management to a more strategic response”, which countries now owned and could be held accountable for.
Particularly galling to African NGOs was that their governments, negotiating in New York under the leadership of Gabon, chose to ignore a pre-agreed common position that included targets. In preparation for the UN meeting, The African Union (AU) had drawn up a comprehensive programme with a number of goals in Abuja, Nigeria, including a commitment to reach 80 percent of people needing treatment by 2010.
Apart from Nigeria, no other African country challenged Gabon’s interpretation of the common position.
“I think the [draft] declaration is very weak, and the most disappointing thing is the lack of targets. Our African governments have let us down, and [the irony is that] it is our continent which is the worst affected,” said Emma Tuahepa, coordinator of Namibia’s National Association of People Living with AIDS.
Msimang agreed: “It undermines the AU and the work that has been done [in achieving a common position], and countries might see this as an opportunity to backtrack (on the commitments made at Abuja).” (See News from Africa).