Early June, 2011 marked the 30th anniversary of our global community’s struggle with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. After three decades, our efforts to overcome this disease have been a simultaneous demonstration of scientific progress and total failure. While we have made huge strides towards understanding the virus and discovering treatment options, we are yet to find a cure, eliminate stigma, or implement effective prevention plans for affected populations.
Thus, it was with mixed opinions and conflicting views of optimism and realism that the UN General Assembly convened in New York for a special session on the topic of HIV/AIDS – 10 years since the last such assembly. Leaders and representatives from a variety of states gathered to learn, discuss and eventually “adopt a declaration which will guide country responses to HIV over the next five years” (UN). With the deadline for the UN’s Millennium Development Goal regarding HIV/AIDS response approaching quickly--to have halted and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015--this meeting focused on re-emphasizing the global treatment and prevention movement.
The meeting couldn’t have come at a better time. Although support and interest in combating the disease has waned in past years, according to HIV policy advisor Sharonann Lynch, the announcement that treating people living with HIV earlier could reduce HIV transmission by up to 96 percent has "reignited the HIV/AIDS field [and] there’s hope out there” (AllAfrica). Perhaps in response to this feeling of hope, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon set forth a very bold declaration, saying “that is our goal – zero new infections, zero stigma and zero Aids-related deaths" by 2020 (Guardian Development Network).
While it’s certainly admirable that the UN is once again making a commitment to eradicate this devastating epidemic, many are skeptical about the reality of this lofty goal. For example, though it was decided that this next push will require an additional $6 billion, there were no specific rulings on where that funding should come from. Former President Bill Clinton spoke about the importance of better coordination between the different governmental agencies and other groups working to treat and prevent transmission of HIV/AIDS, but no action was taken to make changes in the status quo. Just like the decades leading up to this meeting, the UN General Assembly’s statements, goals and plans are at best idealistic if not completely impractical and disjointed.
Leaders and experts around the world have expressed disappointment with the intangible results of the session. In an interview, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathon asserted that "to say that adequate funding is critical to the success of our HIV and AIDS response is an understatement" (Guardian). Though UNAIDS is advocating increased funding to “end mother-to-child transmission of HIV, reduce by half the number of deaths from tuberculosis among people living with HIV, and boost campaigns to prevent HIV transmission among the most vulnerable” (Voice of America) there is far more that must be done to truly address the challenges of this epidemic than funnel money into the effort. Prevention programs that target health education, trade agreements that don’t take advantage of weakened populations, a more holistic view of treatment, care and health, a more extensive engagement of global leaders on the dangers of stigma, and a much bigger emphasis on listening to those people who work in the field are all necessary steps that need more than money to succeed.
Without a more synchronized, down-to-earth and realistic global response, there is little to celebrate after 30 years of HIV/AIDS campaigns. According to Nonkosi Khumalo, chairperson of South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign, “without strong prevention and treatment targets, and the means to achieve them, we are actually setting ourselves up for nothing more than another talk shop with little to show for it, come 2015 (AllAfrica)".
What do you think about the UN’s new goal for eliminating HIV/AIDS? Stay tuned for more information on what the epidemic looks like today in Uganda, and see if you believe increased funding and political agendas are truly a step forward.
Sources (listed in order of citation)
“UN High-Level Meeting on AIDS - Where to From Here?” (June 9, 2011.) http://allafrica.com/stories/201106100350.html
“HIV and Aids: Bold New Goal for 2020 Set at UN Aids Summit.” (June 14 2011.) Guardian Development Network. http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2011/jun/14/hiv-aids-un-summit
Nyaira, Sandra, “Participants in High-Level UN HIV/AIDS Meeting Propose Bold Funding Options.” (June 13, 2011.) http://www.voanews.com/zimbabwe/news/UN-Aids-Meeting-Ends-With-P-123766454.html
Edited by Alison Stanton