President of UN General Assembly (UNGA) Volkan Bozkir says although the world has made “great strides” since the first case of AIDS was reported four decades ago, the “tragic reality” is that the most vulnerable remain in jeopardy.
Bozkir, at the opening of a three-day High-Level Meeting on the Continuing Epidemic, said the vulnerable remained in jeopardy of being left behind as AIDS remained a development challenge.
“They are at greatest risk of being left behind as AIDS remains not just a health issue, but a broader development challenge,’’ he said.
The UNGA President acknowledged that AIDS-related deaths had reduced by 61 per cent since the peak in 2004.
Bozkir warned that in spite of the reduction, under-investment had caused many countries to fall short of the global targets set out five years ago, to fast-track the international response.
Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic, conflict and humanitarian emergencies have impeded progress as health systems are under immense strain, and critical services and supply chains are disrupted.
Climate-based disasters, prevalent in areas with a high HIV burden, pose additional risks to the most vulnerable, triggering stigma and discrimination and further isolating those already marginalised.
“Put simply: AIDS is an epidemic of inequalities; to end AIDS by 2030, we must end inequalities,” the UN top official said.
Meeting with world leaders, decision-makers, frontline workers and others, the Assembly chief` pointed to the Decade of Action.
“If we are to deliver the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, all Member States must re-commit to ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
“Ending AIDS is both a pre-requisite and a result of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),’’ he said.
“In 2020, women and girls accounted for half of those newly infected with HIV globally and six out of every seven new HIV infections among those between the ages of 15-19 in sub-Saharan Africa were girls.
“It is unacceptable and every female must be free to exercise her human rights, make her own decisions and be treated with dignity and respect,’’ Bozkir said.
As the world stands firm in galvanising action to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the Assembly President said that “now” is the time to “re-commit to our 2030 targets and accelerate our efforts to end AIDS by 2030”.
He urged the participants to listen to the voices of those affected, health workers and the epidemiologists “who have been ringing the alarm”.
He urged them to take “urgent action” for equal access to treatment to prevent the 12 million people who are now living with HIV from dying of AIDS-related causes
Warning that infection rates are not following the once-promised trajectory, UNAIDS chief Winnie Byanyima said, “AIDS is not over.”
“An AIDS death every minute is an emergency!”
She cautioned that amidst the fall-out from the COVID crisis, “we could even see a resurgent pandemic”, urging participants to unblock roads to a cure and end inequalities that kill.
This requires “bold shifts”, including dramatically better access to good medical services.
“Science moves at the speed of political will,” she added.
Byanyima called for an end to fees surrounding debt restructuring, arguing that wealthier governments should “step up not step back” on healthcare funding for low and middle-income States.
“Keep the fight on, pressure of the power of people is key to ending inequalities and ending AIDS,” she said, maintaining that justice comes primarily through the “tireless efforts” of those who insist on it.
Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed lauded those standing up for human dignity.
The UNGA deputy president recalled that crises, such as pandemics, threatened to bring out the worst in people.
She said that pandemics “thrive in, and widen, the fault lines and fractures of society”.
Mohammed also highlighted the need for predictable funding for preventive education and/or medical and psychological care.
“To end AIDS, we need to end the intersecting injustices that drive new HIV infections and prevent people from accessing services,” she said.