94th Plenary Meeting of General Assembly 72nd Session

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12-Jun-2018 03:02:53
Resist resting on laurels, global community urged during General Assembly debate on complete eradication of AIDS-causing HIV, at 94th plenary meeting.

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Progress Remains Fragile, Uneven, Says Secretary-General; Assembly President Adds: We Are on Right Path, Should Be Hopeful, Never Complacent

Having made considerable progress in reducing the rates of new HIV infections and expanding the availability of antiretroviral drugs, the global community must resist the temptation to “rest on its laurels” and instead redouble efforts to completely eradicate the virus, the General Assembly heard today, as delegates outlined national progress towards meeting testing and treatment benchmarks to that end.

Many speakers spotlighted the ultimate target — enshrined in Sustainable Development Goal 3 — of ending AIDS as a public threat by 2030. Others, focusing on the shorter term, underlined the importance of achieving the “90-90-90” target, wherein 90 per cent of all people living with HIV would know their status, 90 per cent would be receiving antiretroviral treatment and 90 per cent of those would have achieved viral suppression — all by 2020.

“The world is making good progress towards ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030,” Secretary-General António Guterres said in opening remarks. Today, more people had access to HIV testing and treatment, treatment had been expanded to more than 20 million people since 1990 and mother-to-child transmission rates had fallen. However, progress remained fragile and uneven, with young women and marginalized communities at higher risk, he cautioned. Calling for stronger efforts to empower people to protect themselves, he said that would include providing a full range of sexual and reproductive health services and rights, harm reduction for people using drugs and access to treatment for young people living with HIV.

General Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia) agreed that more must be done to end the AIDS epidemic despite the progress achieved to date. While the goal was eradicating AIDS by 2030, the context must be examined, he said, emphasizing the importance of examining such issues as universal health coverage since survival rates varied across the world. “We are on the right path and should be hopeful, but never complacent,” he added.

Cuba’s delegate, noting that her country had adopted its National Programme for the Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS more than 30 years ago, said that its approach — like its entire health‑care system — was based on the principle that health care was a basic human right. The programme allowed for research and development of generic drugs, provided broad-ranging sexual education and offered free antiretroviral treatment to all who needed it. As a result of those efforts, Cuba had been certified in 2015 as the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and today the prevalence of the virus among people aged 15 to 49 stood at well below 1 per cent, she said.

Brazil’s representative, emphasizing that the international community must remain vigilant in its continued efforts to overcome HIV/AIDS, described his country’s strong national public health system and its recent decision to offer universal pre-exposure prophylaxis. Brazil was also investing more in reducing the gap between HIV diagnosis and treatment, including by working to reduce therapy prices, he said. “The imperative of public health must always prevail over commercial interests,” he stressed, adding that the flexibility allowed by the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights was a powerful and effective tool for accomplishing universal access targets.

Kenya’s representative, speaking on behalf of the African Group, described continuing challenges to addressing the risk of new HIV infections in the continent’s eastern and southern regions, particularly among women. Calling for a comprehensive approach and the necessary investment, he said those affected must have access to treatment, and robust awareness-raising activities must be wide‑reaching. Ending AIDS by 2030 would require a strong focus on mothers and children, he said, stressing that progress would depend on advances in gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls, improved prevention and increased resources.

Canada’s representative, emphasizing that the 2020 deadline to meet the “90‑90‑90” targets “is at our doorstep”, said her country had launched its first Feminist International Assistance Policy focusing on its poorest and most vulnerable women and girls. “Our goal is to reach the hardest-to-reach”, providing them with the HIV prevention, treatment and care they deserved, she said. Efforts were also under way to end the stigma and discrimination faced by such vulnerable and marginalized groups as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples and intravenous drug users.

The Russian Federation’s delegate, however, expressed concern over such controversial practices as “harm reduction” programmes — including needle exchanges and opioid replacement therapy — saying they were neither universally recognized nor scientifically proven. Instead, it was critical to eliminate non‑medical drug use completely, he added, underlining the need for young people feel ready and able to seek help, and to prevent high-risk behaviours while cultivating a more responsible attitude towards their own health.

Australia’s representative warned of the danger that hard-won gains would be lost, noting that the current rate of decline in HIV-related deaths and infections was too slow to reach global targets. Also, it was increasingly difficult to reach consensus on sexual and reproductive health and on ending stigma and discrimination against marginalized groups — issues at the heart of an effective HIV response.

Haiti’s representative recalled that his country had fallen prey to a massive HIV epidemic, with major repercussions for all strata and segments of society. However, the country had since been able to reduce HIV prevalence among the adult population from 2.2 to 2 per cent in recent years. Since the Government’s adoption of a “test and treat” strategy, 86 per cent of HIV-positive persons now knew their status, 85 per cent of those had been placed on antiretroviral treatment, and a high percentage of those now experienced an undetectable viral load, he said.

Malawi’s delegate called attention to the alarmingly low attendance at the session, and expressed hope that the empty hall did not indicate an attitude of “it’s your problem, it’s not ours. That is what got us into this situation in the first place,” he pointed out.

Also speaking were representatives of the United Republic of Tanzania (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community), European Union, United States, Thailand, Armenia, Zambia, Namibia, Argentina, Liechtenstein, Norway, Colombia, Panama, Switzerland, Jamaica, Eswatini, Botswana, China, Mexico, Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Lesotho, Rwanda, Nepal, Myanmar, India and the Netherlands.

In other business this afternoon, the Assembly adopted two resolutions. By a recorded vote of 81 in favour to 16 against, with 62 abstentions, it adopted the resolution “Status of internally displaced persons and refugees from Abkhazia, Georgia, and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, Georgia”.

Later in the afternoon, it unanimously adopted the resolution “International Day of Family Remittances”.

The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 13 June, to elect members of the Economic and Social Council.
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