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Bolder Action Needed by Donor Nations, Less Rhetoric in Fight against HIV/AIDS

TAG Statement on the U.N. High Level Meetings on HIV/AIDS Outcome Document

Monday, June 6, 2011
Media Contact:
Mark Harrington +1.212.253.7922 x200
Javid Syed +1.646.373.8801

Treatment Action Group (TAG) calls on donor nations to affirm their commitment to HIV/AIDS by setting robust time-bound treatment targets, advocating for the elimination of legal barriers to access of treatment and care and by insisting on the protection of marginalized and vulnerable populations affected by HIV/AIDS. The upcoming UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS, which is being held on June 8 – 10 in New York, marks the 30 year anniversary in the global fight against HIV. At this critical juncture in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the HLM Outcome Document needs to demonstrate bold leadership to define an ambitious way forward and stay focused on the Universal Access to HIV treatment targets set in the 2001 Declaration of Commitment and 2006 Political Declaration.

Currently, there are over 33 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS, two-thirds of whom lack access to life-saving treatment. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 18 million people will need access to treatment by 2015. To achieve Universal Access, defined as reaching at least 80% of those in need of HIV treatment will require that the world provide antiretroviral therapy (ART) to at least 15 million people by 2015. To achieve this goal strong leadership is needed from leading donors - such as the U.S. and E.U. – in setting ambitious time-bound treatment targets to reduce mortality among people with HIV. However as it currently stands, it has become acceptable to have a two-tiered system of AIDS treatment with the rich benefiting from advances in ART while there are increasing barriers for access to life saving drugs for the poor says Mark Harrington, Executive Director of TAG. Further says Harrington, “though it is true that emerging economies such as India, Brazil, and China need to do more to fund the global HIV response, and countries with a high-burden of HIV need to use funds more efficiently, this does not justify the shameful lack of leadership being shown by the U.S. and the E.U. both of whom have not been supportive of the target of reaching 15 million people on ART by 2015. Meanwhile the countries with high burden of HIV have been advocating against the powerful U.S. and E.U. lobby to ensure that this target of reaching at least 80% in retained in the Outcome Document. The current rhetoric of country ownership and shared responsibility on the part of the E.U. and U.S. is being used as an excuse to not create bold treatment and funding targets and masks a real intention to backslide on a commitment to Universal Access that had previously been led by rich nations.”

This is despite recent major advances and incontrovertible evidence that shows that having access to ART not only reduces mortality in people with HIV, but also reduces HIV transmission to uninfected partners by 96%, can virtually eliminate vertical transmission of HIV to new born babies, and even reduce the TB rates in people with HIV by more than 80%. We now have better data to demonstrate that through the roll out of ART we have the potential to curb the epidemic in the near future. As such, a paradigm shift in the AIDS funding was suggested in a 3 June 2011 article in The Lancet, that showed that with a modest increase of funding the world can scale up access to HIV treatment and prevention by 2015 to prevent 12 million new infections and save 7.4 million lives by 2020. However, we also know that along with ART and HIV prevention strategies, greater efficiencies can be achieved by HIV programs working closely with other disease programs like TB programs to address important coinfections. Recent data from a modeling paper also shows that if TB/HIV collaborative services are scaled up, the world can save 1 million lives between 2011 and 2015. The Outcome Document must highlight such critical opportunities to increase efficiency of the AIDS response that will allow us to do more with the funds we have.

Member states must also step up and affirm the human rights and dignity of all people affected by HIV including but not limited to male and female sex workers, people who use drugs, transgender people, men who have sex with men, undocumented and migrant peoples. “Those that seek to erode and minimize the importance of human rights and civil liberties for vulnerable marginalized populations are complicit in fueling the epidemic,” says Harrington. In this context African countries, the Arab nations, and Russia have formed an unholy alliance with the Vatican to prevent the naming of these stigmatized communities in the outcome document and promoting stigmatizing language such as ‘unethical and unlawful behaviors’ when referring to criminalization of HIV transmission and ‘prostitutes’ when referring to sex workers. “There is no place for stigmatizing language in the Outcome Document. A framework of our future AIDS response that does not promote and defend the human rights of those vulnerable to HIV will drive those communities away from services, fuel stigma, and undermine our efforts to reduce infections and deaths due to HIV/AIDS. The Outcome Document must name the populations that bear the brunt of HIV and ensure that we address their barriers to services and provide appropriate care. If the HLM does not show bold leadership on these critical fronts, the world will lose a vital opportunity to define the global response to the deadliest epidemic of our time.”

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Treatment Action Group is an independent AIDS research and policy think tank fighting for better treatment, a vaccine, and a cure for AIDS. TAG works to ensure that all people with HIV receive lifesaving treatment, care, and information. We are science-based treatment activists working to expand and accelerate vital research and effective community engagement with research and policy institutions. TAG catalyzes open collective action by all affected communities, scientists, and policy makers to end AIDS.