[with CART] (1st meeting) 2021 High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS (8-10 June 2021)

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08-Jun-2021 03:04:05
World leaders in General Assembly adopt political declaration pledging urgent, transformative action to stop global AIDS epidemic by 2030.

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World leaders in the General Assembly today committed to “urgent and transformative action” to end the gender inequalities, restrictive laws and multiple forms of discrimination that perpetuate the global AIDS epidemic, adopting a lengthy Political Declaration that spells out measures to stop the disease in its tracks by 2030.

The text — titled “Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS: Ending Inequalities and Getting on Track to End AIDS by 2030” (document A/75/L.95) — passed by a recorded vote of 165 in favour to 4 against (Belarus, Nicaragua, Russian Federation, Syria), with no abstentions, following charged attempts by the Russian Federation to excise contentious provisions through three proposed amendments, all of which failed by recorded vote under intense scrutiny.

“The end of AIDS is within reach, but urgent action is needed,” world leaders said through the Political Declaration, reaffirming their international resolve to meet that objective. They expressed deep concern that the AIDS epidemic remains a global emergency, committing to reduce new HIV infections to under 370,000 and annual AIDS-related deaths to under 250,000 by 2025. They pledged to end inequalities faced by people living with HIV and reinforce HIV responses through enhanced engagement with a broad range of stakeholders.

In opening remarks, Yana Panfilova, a 23-year-old woman from Ukraine living with HIV, called for radical change. “We are dying from the pandemics of stigma, discrimination and the lack of TRIPs [Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights] flexibilities,” she said, referencing the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement establishing minimum standards for the regulation of intellectual property.

Speaking for the 38 million people living with HIV, she urged the United States President to make the health technologies and cutting-edge treatments in that country available to everyone, everywhere. All Governments must provide comprehensive sex education in all schools, psychosocial and peer support for all adolescents living with HIV, community-led HIV services and an HIV vaccine. “We demand you step up and finally do your work,” she said.

Driving home that point, Assembly President Volkan Bozkir (Turkey) affirmed that AIDS is an “epidemic of inequalities”. Half of the people newly infected with HIV in 2020 were women and girls. Ending AIDS by 2030 is both a prerequisite for — and a result of — implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. “We must listen to the voices of those affected, the civil society representatives, the health workers and the epidemiologists who have been ringing the alarm,” he said.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), agreed. She welcomed the Political Declaration as the basis of renewed global efforts to end a disease that has ravaged communities for over 40 years, fomented by imbalances in power, status, rights and voice.

She advocated for bold shifts — first and foremost to prioritize the best data and evidence, as “science moves at the speed of political will”. She also called for guaranteed health education for everyone, everywhere, and for an end to tax avoidance. Fair debt‑resolution mechanisms to prevent national debt from undermining efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS will also be important.

“UNAIDS remains at the heart of our efforts to support countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary‑General of the United Nations. She rallied leaders to garner their political will, stressing that, with strong community engagement, rights-based and multisectoral approaches and consistent use of scientific evidence, the world can end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

Throughout the day — during both general debate and vigorous discussion on harm‑reduction programmes, perceived interference in national legislation and “rights-based” approaches to ending AIDS that preceded the Declaration’s adoption — Heads of State and Government, ministers and other senior officials, predominantly from Africa, cast a spotlight on the most vulnerable. Delegates spoke in a sparsely populated Assembly Hall, with Heads of State and Government delivering their remarks exclusively via webcast, due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The President of Rwanda said that “waiting to respond to HIV in Africa was a mistake, because the virus was spreading, even though it was treatable”, recalling that a decade and countless lives were lost. He cited the need for more investment in health infrastructure, pointing out that national health systems in Africa depended upon to fight COVID-19 were largely built with HIV funding. “It is difficult to find any family in sub-Saharan Africa today that has not lost someone to HIV/AIDS,” added Rwanda’s representative from the General Assembly Hall. African girls aged 15 to 19 are at particular risk of being infected.

In that context, the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said HIV/AIDS remains one of the most serious public health threats and a leading cause of death in Africa, a point bolstered by the Health Minister of Mozambique, who said that 2.1 million Mozambicans were living with HIV in 2020, including 130,000 children under age 15. While the country reduced new infections by 25 per cent between 2021 and 2020 — driven by a mix of behavioural, biomedical and structural interventions — more must be done to fill gaps in legal protections and safeguard citizens’ rights. The Deputy President of South Africa meanwhile echoed calls to temporarily loosen intellectual property protections, which would enable local production of medical commodities and encourage technology‑sharing to meet public health objectives.

A few leaders pointed to actions already under way, with the European Commissioner for International Partnerships of the European Union stressing that “Team Europe” has contributed €2.6 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. She expressed support for strengthening health systems pursuant to the Rome Declaration adopted in May at the Global Health Summit.

“If there was ever a time to remotivate ourselves […] that time is now,” Thailand’s Prime Minister agreed. He called for rapidly scaled-up innovations and expanded coverage, delivered through a user-friendly, rights-backed package of services. Canada’s Minister for International Development vowed that her country will continue to stand up for the rights of key populations. “This is the time for the global community to come together to acknowledge and confront the intersecting inequalities, and other reasons behind why pandemics continue to disproportionately affect those with the least power in our societies,” she said.

Also speaking in the general debate were Heads of State and Government and other senior officials from Burkina Faso, United Republic of Tanzania, Seychelles, Liberia, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guyana, Niger, Malawi, Botswana, Namibia, South Sudan, Eswatini, Ireland, Serbia, Indonesia (also on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), Spain, Denmark, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Also speaking in explanation of position were representatives of Australia, Namibia, United States, Portugal (on behalf of the European Union), Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco, Algeria, Brazil, Canada, United Kingdom, Bahrain (on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council), China, Russian Federation, Japan, Iran, Hungary, Guatemala, Iraq, Belarus, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Malaysia, Israel, Nicaragua, Bangladesh and Syria, as well as observers for the Holy See and the European Union.

The representative of the Russian Federation introduced three amendments during a point of order.

Charlize Theron, eminent person actively engaged in the response to HIV/AIDS, United Nations Messenger of Peace, and Founder of the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, also delivered opening remarks.

The Assembly will reconvene at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, 9 June, to continue the general debate of its high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS.

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