UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The UN General Assembly on Tuesday approved a declaration calling for urgent action to end AIDS by 2030, noting “with concern” that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities and further expanded access to AIDS drugs , treatment and diagnostics off the track.
The declaration commits the 193 member states of the assembly to implement the 18-page document, including reducing annual new HIV infections to below 370,000 and annual AIDS-related deaths to 250,000 by 2025. It also calls for progress towards elimination of all forms of HIV related stigma and discrimination and for emergency work for HIV vaccine and AIDS cure.
Without a huge increase in resources and coverage for the vulnerable and infected, “we will not end the AIDS epidemic by 2030,”
It says the coronavirus pandemic has created obstacles to the fight against AIDS, “widening the lines of error in a deeply unequal world and jeopardizing insufficient investment in public health, health systems and other basic public services for all and pandemic preparedness.” .
Although the international investment response to the pandemic is inadequate, it is unprecedented, the assembly said.
The response to the coronavirus from many countries demonstrated the “potential and urgency for greater investment” in response to pandemics, stressing “the need to increase investment in public health systems, including responses to HIV and other diseases,” the statement said.
The assembly adopted the resolution at its initial session at a three-day AIDS summit with a vote of 165-4, with Russia, Belarus, Syria and Nicaragua voting no.
Prior to the vote, the assembly rejected with a huge amount three amendments proposed by Russia.
They would remove references to human rights abuses that perpetuate the global AIDS epidemic and a “rights-based” approach to cooperation from UNAIDS, the UN agency leading the global effort to end the AIDS pandemic. including age of consent, interventions to treat HIV among intravenous drug users, including “opioid substitution therapy” and “expanding harm reduction programs”.
UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima welcomed the adoption of the declaration and told the meeting that “this will be the basis of our work to end this pandemic that has been ravaging communities for 40 years.”
Calling AIDS “one of the deadliest pandemics of today,” she said 77.5 million people were infected with HIV since the first case was reported in 1981 and nearly 35 million had died of AIDS.
“HIV levels do not follow the trajectory we promised together,” she said. “In fact, among the aftermath of the COVID crisis, we could even see a resurgent pandemic.”
Bianyima said COVID-19 showed that science was moving “at the speed of political will” and called for accelerating the cost of innovation in AIDS treatment, prevention, care and vaccines “as a global public good”.
On a positive note, the Assembly’s declaration said that since 2001 there had been a 54% reduction in AIDS-related deaths and a 37% reduction in HIV infections worldwide, but warned that “overall progress has been dangerously slowed by 2016 “
The Assembly expressed “deep concern” that there were 1.7 million new infections in 2019 compared to the global target of 2020 for less than 500,000 infections and that new HIV infections had increased in at least 33 countries since 2016.
Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, has made the most progress in tackling the AIDS epidemic, but also remains the region hardest hit, the assembly said. It calls for “urgent and exceptional action” to limit the devastating effects of the infection, especially on women, adolescents and children.
Members of the Assembly welcomed the progress made in reducing HIV and AIDS-related deaths in Asia and the Pacific, the Caribbean, Western and Central Europe and North America. But they noted that despite progress, “the Caribbean continues to be most prevalent outside sub-Saharan Africa,” as new HIV infections increase in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa.
Baniyma stressed the importance of eliminating inequalities in the availability of medicines and ensuring that medicines that can prevent the death of people living with HIV are produced by many manufacturers at affordable prices, “especially in the global south, where the disease is concentrated”.
“This moment calls us to work together in different sectors, in different countries,” she said. “The false promises of populism turn out to be incompatible with biology: As COVID reminds us, we are not just interconnected, we are inseparable.”
“We cannot stop AIDS in one country or on one continent. We can only stop AIDS everywhere, “Byanyima said.
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