|At last week’s 2006 High Level Meeting on AIDS, UN General Assembly President Jan Eliasson (left) and UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot participate in a press conference on a UN declaration to strengthen the response to AIDS.|
By Rachel Bonham Carter
NEW YORK, USA, 5 June 2006 – Three days of high-level meetings at United Nations headquarters in New York culminated on Friday in a General Assembly declaration that aims to strengthen the world’s response to AIDS. While the wide-ranging statement reaffirms previous goals set in 2001, it also calls for ambitious national targets and promotes the protection of young people – especially girls – to reduce their vulnerability to HIV.
General Assembly President Jan Eliasson announced the declaration, describing the negotiation process that brought together UN member states, non-governmental organizations and almost 800 groups from civil society. The process was the beginning of “a new dynamic of international cooperation,” he said.
“The voices of those living with HIV, and of other groups, have been powerfully heard,” added UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot, “and this has contributed significantly to what I see as a good, substantial and forward-looking declaration.”
‘Saving Lives’ report on children and AIDS
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged world leaders to take personal responsibility for saving lives, calling the effort to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS “the greatest challenge of our generation.”
Mr. Annan continued: “We know what it takes to turn the tide against this epidemic. It requires every president and prime minister, every parliament and politician, to decide and declare, ‘AIDS stops with me’.”
Before last week’s High Level Meeting on AIDS had even begun, UNICEF was making every effort to ensure that the cause of children and women would remain a top priority throughout the discussions. At the launch of a report by the Global Movement for Children on 26 May, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman reminded those present that children are the missing face of AIDS.
“In the 25 years since the start of the pandemic, the world has viewed HIV/AIDS primarily as a disease of adults,” said Ms. Veneman. “Yet because of AIDS, children are missing parents, missing teachers, missing treatment and care, missing protection, missing many things – except for the devastating effects of this disease.”
The report, ‘Saving Lives: Children’s right to HIV and AIDS treatment’, is an appeal to protect children from the disease, provide them with antiretroviral treatment and invest in their future. Its release was followed a few days later by a breakfast meeting at UN headquarters, chaired by UNICEF Spokesperson for Youth Ronan Farrow, who led a call for children’s needs to be taken seriously in the drive toward universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care.
|A girl from the African Children’s Choir performs at the gala event, ‘An Evening of Remembrance and Hope: Uniting the World Against AIDS’, at UN headquarters on Friday, 2 June. The event commemorated 25 million deaths from AIDS over the past 25 years.|
UNAIDS cites progress and challenges
A key figure throughout the proceedings was Dr. Piot of UNAIDS. On 30 May, the day before the meeting began, Dr. Piot launched the 2006 ‘UNAIDS Report on the global AIDS epidemic’, the most comprehensive analysis of the crisis ever compiled.
While the report finds that the global rate of infection appears to be slowing down, it also says that new infections are continuing to increase in some regions and that AIDS remains an exceptional threat.
In releasing the study, Dr. Piot described progress with regard to children affected by AIDS as "abysmal". Every day, he noted, there are an estimated 1,500 new HIV infections among children under the age of 15, while some 15 million children have lost one or both parents to the disease
The First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush, spoke on the final day of the session to announce a new tool in the battle against AIDS – expanded HIV testing, which could help prevent mother-to-child transmission and other forms of infection, and facilitate treatment for people living with HIV.
“The United States will soon propose an International Testing Day,” said Ms. Bush. “I urge all member states to join us in support of this initiative.”
Global collaboration against AIDS
Another speaker, CARE International’s HIV/AIDS advisor for East and Central Africa, Millicent Obaso, presented a report urging that AIDS be addressed with a focus on underlying problems of poverty and nutrition.
“My main findings were that our governments have not met their commitments,” Ms. Obaso said, referring to African nations in particular. “They are committed to contribute 15 per cent of their national budgets to health so that they can improve HIV/AIDS programmes. Only two countries have met that commitment in full. So to me that’s a big issue, because when African women and children are sick, our governments should be the first to put that fire out.”
Celebrity faces lent their support to the meeting as well, with the launch of a partnership between the US National Basketball Association and the UNITE FOR CHILDREN UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign. Basketball legends, including Hall of Famer Bill Russell, were at UNICEF headquarters in New York on 31 May for a screening of a new public service announcement that features 10 star basketball players talking about the impact of AIDS on children.
And at the end of the week, actors, musicians and dancers took part in an evening of hope and remembrance marking 25 years of the AIDS crisis. The Friday evening gala in the General Assembly Hall included singing by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo and a lively performance by the African Children’s Choir. The audience also heard from people living with HIV, longtime AIDS activists and leaders from six continents, all united behind a single goal: global collaboration in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
2 June 2006:
CARE International’s Millicent Obaso discusses the report she presented to the UN General Assembly calling for bolder action against HIV/AIDS, with an emphasis on the education of women and girls.
VIDEO high | low
2006 High Level Meeting on AIDS
5 June 2006:
UN urges a stronger response to AIDS, the ‘greatest challenge of our generation’ [with video]
2 June 2006:
UN partners cap high-level AIDS meeting with night of remembrance [with video]
1 June 2006:
Campaign partners urge universal access to treatment [with video]
31 May 2006:
UN leadership charts ‘a way forward’ [with video]
30 May 2006:
UNAIDS report: AIDS slowing globally but increasing in some regions [with video]
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