UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS: definitely not the way to end AIDS
Joint press release by Action against AIDS, AIDS Action Europe, and Deutsche Aidshilfe
The Political Declaration of the international community falls short of expectations – once again, no agreement on an ambitious strategy with concrete funding commitments is possible.
The United Nations (UN) “High-level meetings on AIDS”, titled: “Ending inequalities. Ending AIDS.” is taking place in New York, USA from 8 to 10 June 2021. The United Nations has a declared goal of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. At the HLM held every five years, the international community takes stock of the measures taken so far, and agrees on common goals and approaches for the future. Germany is represented at the meeting by the Federal Minister of Health, Jens Spahn. Action against AIDS, AIDS Action Europe, and Deutsche Aidshilfe are the civil society members of the German delegation.
At the centre of the event is a joint political declaration, which was adopted at the opening event yesterday - after a long diplomatic struggle, a controversial debate, and with considerable cutbacks compared to the zero draft.
"The Political Declaration falls far short of expectations and the ignorance of some governments is shocking," comments Sylvia Urban, member of the Board of Action against AIDS and Deutsche Aidshilfe. “Although the declaration mentions the groups particularly severely affected by HIV, and names social disadvantage as the main obstacle to overcoming the HIV epidemic, there is a lack of clear words on sexual rights and specific funding commitments. This way the United Nations will end neither inequalities nor AIDS. 40 years after the first reports about AIDS, we could be much further."
Progressive forces with regard to sexual rights have not been able to assert themselves sufficiently. Effective HIV prevention is based on respect for and protection of gender and sexual identities as well as strengthening of self-confident, responsible decisions and comprehensive education. For some countries such as Russia, Saudi Arabia or China, the term “sexual rights” is a red flag. Apparently, they were able to get their way by removing the right to sexual self-determination from the declaration.
Protect and involve affected communities
The good news is that despite the resistance of some countries - above all Russia - it is clearly recognized that the so-called key populations must be supported with comprehensive preventive measures that are geared to their specific needs. According to UNAIDS, 62% of all new HIV infections worldwide come from these discriminated and marginalized groups: gay men and other men who have sex with men, intravenous drug users, sex workers and trans people as well as their sex partners. Other important “key groups” are migrants and people in closed settings.
The importance of programs that are initiated and implemented by members of these communities is also particularly emphasized. Such measures are urgently needed in many countries due to persecution, discrimination and government arbitrariness against these groups.
People living with HIV are part of the solution - not the problem!
It cannot be stressed enough: people living with HIV and the groups affected by HIV are part of the solution, not part of the problem. These key populations are disproportionately affected by HIV due to social determinants and marginalisation, as well as other structural factors. It is all the more regrettable that the stigmatizing thought emerges in the declaration that these groups are responsible for the transmission of HIV to other people. Unfortunately, the declaration also gives states the option of defining their key groups themselves according to national criteria - and thus continue to discriminate.
Ferenc Bagyinszky, coordinator of AIDS Action Europe network, comments:
“When talking about key populations, one thing must be clear: successful HIV prevention opens doors instead of closing them. It removes barriers that prevent access to prevention, treatment and care services, and empowers all people to protect themselves - without blaming others. Stigma is the worst enemy of any HIV/AIDS prevention. Ignorance of the needs of key populations cements inequality instead of eliminating it. "
There are no funding commitments
Another central deficit of the declaration is that although it contains the general obligation to cover the financial requirements for coping with HIV in developing countries amounting to 29 billion US dollars, it fails to show a concrete way of achieving sufficient funding.
Joachim Rüppel from the board of Action against AIDS says:
“What the global community needs to end the HIV epidemic is a concrete plan that quantifies both the financial efforts of the developing countries and the necessary contributions from economically stronger countries. The basis for this must be that all countries with high income achieve the UN benchmark of 0.7% of gross national income for development cooperation. Previous funding gaps and the COVID-19 pandemic mean that there is a lot of catching up to do. Increased financial efforts are particularly important now. "
Market logic costs human lives
There were also setbacks with regard to the TRIPS Agreement of the World Trade Organization and the handling of patent rights. As in 2016, the importance of intellectual property is emphasized in the declaration. A section that provided for the suspension of the TRIPS conditions in order to advance the fight against pandemics is missing in the declaration. Important statements about public research and funding are watered down. It remains the logic of the private sector.
“For many years, market and profit-oriented thinking has made HIV therapy unaffordable in Africa and other regions, which cost millions of lives. The protection of human life must take precedence over all other interests. A forward-looking UN declaration would take this into account,” comments Sylvia Urban.
EU as a motor for progress?
The political resolution of the European Parliament of May 20, 2021 on "Accelerating progress and combating inequalities in the elimination of AIDS as a threat to public health by 2030" is much more progressive.
We call on the European Commission and the member states of the EU to translate this political will into concrete measures and financial commitment - in the EU and globally.