[with CART] (4th meeting) 2021 High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS (8-10 June 2021)

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09-Jun-2021 02:57:06
Governments must embrace rights-based focus on those most at risk of HIV/AIDS, General Assembly speakers stress, amid differences over ‘key’ populations.

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Fallout from COVID-19 Derailing Public Health Gains, Draining Coffers, Ministers Warn as High-Level Meeting Moves into Day Two

Countries must embrace hard lessons learned over four decades of the HIV epidemic — including the need for human rights-based action focused on populations most at risk — as they confront the “colliding pandemics” of COVID-19 and its fallout, which threaten to derail crucial public health gains, ministers stressed during the second day of the high-level General Assembly meeting on HIV/AIDS.

Health ministers, foreign affairs officials and other senior leaders representing Governments around the globe addressed the Assembly on the heels of its adoption of a sweeping Political Declaration aimed at helping countries end inequalities and “get on track” to halt AIDS by 2030. The high-level meeting, which runs through 10 June, is convened every five years to take stock of progress and challenges ahead.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating economic toll, which has drained national coffers and put up new barriers to health‑care access, many speakers sounded alarms over the erosion of hard-won victories over HIV. While some diverged on the definition of the “key populations” most at risk of infection, there was broad agreement on the need to reduce inequalities which are soaring amid COVID-19, and which have made access to HIV testing and treatment even more difficult for the most marginalized groups.

Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, said that, after 40 years of HIV response, “we know what works”. Underlining the need to “recognize reality” and respect human rights, she said adolescent girls and young women, men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who use drugs, transgender people and prisoners continue to pay the highest price for the collective failure to stop the spread of HIV. Spotlighting similar injustices facing marginalized groups, she noted that the COVID-19 crisis has made it even more difficult to get tested, let alone treated, for HIV. She called on the global community to rally behind the people and countries most affected.

Echoing those points, Dag-Inge Ulstein, Minister for International Development of Norway, declared: “HIV and AIDS remains a serious threat to public health, but its history also shows what can be achieved.” Indeed, he said, a virus that was once a death sentence can now be managed with medication, allowing people to live long and healthy lives. Noting that HIV regrettably continues to impact those in vulnerable situations the most, even in 2021, he joined calls to focus on those most at risk — including young people “in all their diversity”. Changing attitudes on gender and ensuring that all people are able to realize their sexual and reproductive health and rights will be crucial, he said, calling for human rights-based approaches that “work with people, not against them”.

Carla Vizzotti, Minister for Health of Argentina, was among today’s speakers who highlighted the lingering barriers to HIV testing and treatment, including gender discrimination and social stigma. Agreeing with others that special attention should be paid to racial monitories, Afro-decedents, indigenous people, migrants, refugees, sex workers, drug users and LGBTI individuals, she said that, in the context of both HIV/AIDS and COVID-19, “we need to place people and communities at the centre of our response”. The current moment also presents a unique opportunity to reform intellectual property laws and free up patents, allowing everyone in need to access essential HIV treatments, she said.

Isatou Touray, Vice‑President of the Gambia, recalled the “90-90-90” commitment made in 2016 — to ensure that 90 per cent of people living with HIV know their status, 90 per cent of those diagnosed with HIV receive antiretroviral therapy, and 90 per cent of those receiving such therapy are virally suppressed — by 2020. While the target undoubtedly helped countries reduce infection rates and scale up treatment, there is now ample evidence that COVID-19 is jeopardizing that progress. Governments should use this difficult moment as a springboard to reduce rising inequalities and root out the social determinants fuelling the HIV epidemic, she stressed.

Francisco Duque III, Secretary for Health of the Philippines, said his country has made significant progress towards the global goal of ending the HIV epidemic by 2030. Outlining national laws that ensure equitable access to HIV services and to broaden the scope of those services for vulnerable populations — such as migrants — living with the disease, he said the health system has managed to adapt to a “new normal” despite the many constraints imposed by COVID-19.

Also speaking today were ministers and other senior officials from Côte d’Ivoire, Paraguay, Equatorial Guinea, Liechtenstein, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Australia, Cambodia, Ghana, United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Cuba, Morocco, Brazil and Nicaragua.

The Assembly will reconvene in plenary at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 10 June, to conclude the general debate and close its high-level meeting.

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