UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Associated Press photo
While welcoming the solid progress being made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, United Nations officials marked World AIDS Day with urgent appeals for the international community to work even harder to end stigma, discrimination and complacency, to stop new HIV infections among children and to ensure access to care and treatment for all those that need it.
“On this World AIDS Day, I am more optimistic than ever. Much of the world is accelerating progress in responding to HIV,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, with major drops in new infections and deaths and progress in realizing the target of ensuring 15 million people have access to antiretroviral treatment by 2015. “This is crucial to halting and reversing the AIDS epidemic for good,” he added.
But, the UN chief continued, as revealed in the UNAIDS 2013 World AIDS Day Report, there are still worrying signals that some regions and countries are falling behind. While advances are being made in reaching vulnerable populations through efforts to eliminate stigma and discrimination, there is still much to do to end this problem.
“We must recommit to breaking the remaining barriers, including punitive laws and social exclusion, so we can reach all people who lack access to HIV treatment and services.”
“To create conditions for an AIDS-free generation, we must also step up efforts to stop new HIV infections among children and ensure access to treatment for all mothers living with HIV,” said the Secretary-General, particularly urging action to end the discrimination and violence against women which cause terrible harm and increase risk of HIV infection and death from AIDS.
Mr. Ban commended all partners that are making significant contributions to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which he called one of the most important sources of funding for the global response. Major economies are leading by example, ensuring sustained resources for the response to AIDS and other diseases. Many low- and middle-income countries have also significantly increased domestic expenditure on AIDS responses.
Yet, there is still much to do.
“If we want a future free of AIDS we will need continued investment, commitment and innovation to reach the vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. On this World AIDS Day, let us resolve to consign AIDS to the pages of history,” declared the Secretary-General.
Echoing the Secretary-General’s optimism, Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS),said that as people around the world gathered today to remember friends and family lost to AIDS—“we can also rejoice in incredible hope for the future.”
“For the first time we can see an end to an epidemic that has wrought such staggering devastation around the world. For the first time, we can say that we are beginning to control the epidemic and not that the epidemic is controlling us,” he said.
Mr. Sidibé said progress is clear in the scientific breakthroughs, visionary leadership and precision programming. The combination of these powerful factors means that people living with HIV can live long and healthy lives, can now protect their partners from becoming infected with the virus, and can keep their children free from HIV.
It is certain that ending the AIDS epidemic will mean so much to so many. It will mean zero new HIV infections, zero people dying of AIDS—and all people living with dignity and without fear of discrimination. “Ending AIDS will mean celebrating birthdays instead of attending funerals,” said Mr. Sidibé.
“But make no mistake, stigma, denial and complacency are still among us, putting us in danger of failing the next generation. We must join our hearts and our voices––together we are stronger,” he said, adding: “The world is poised to end AIDS and if we stay true to our vision we will remember this as the day that a lifelong of dreams began to transform into reality.”
To commemorate the Day, UNAIDS has added a special section to its website which includes videos, reports and other resource materials, as well as compilation of statements and messages by senior UN officials and Heads of UN agencies.
Meanwhile, at a World AIDS Day event earlier in Melbourne, Australia Mr. Sidibé and UNAIDS Global Advocate for Zero Discrimination, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, previewed the #zerodiscrimination campaign, calling for a global transformation.
The initiative will launch the new Zero Discrimination Day on 1 March 2014, adopting the butterfly as the transformative symbol for zero discrimination.
“I believe in a world where everyone can flower and blossom. We can all make a difference by reaching out and letting people lead a life of dignity irrespective of who they are,” said Nobel Peace Prize Winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. “I invite everyone to open up, reach out and end discrimination.”
“We recognize that getting to zero new HIV infections and zero AIDS-related deaths will be impossible without striving towards zero discrimination,” said Mr Sidibé. “On Zero Discrimination Day, we will celebrate the rights of everyone to live a full and productive life with dignity”.
For the AIDS response, discrimination towards people living with HIV and key populations at higher risk of HIV is a major obstacle to expanding access to HIV services. Country surveys found that 1 in 7 people living with HIV have reportedly been denied access to healthcare and more than 1 in 10 people living with HIV have been refused employment because of their HIV status.
The initial phase of the initiative will continue until December 10 – International Human Rights Day and will then build momentum in the month leading up to the new Zero Discrimination Day.