Protesters evicted from UN headquarters, New York

In the final hours of negotiations of the UN High-Level meeting on HIV/AIDS in New York this week, more than 100 civil society organisations worldwide staged an unprecedented protest shouting “The Declaration must include: treatment, targets, women and girls, harm reduction vulnerable groups”. As they were herded out from the hall by security guards they chanted “Silence is Death”.

They were rejecting a draft political declaration that fell far short of expectations at a time when 8000 people a day die of AIDS globally.

Governments failed to make commitments in five areas critical to ending the global AIDS epidemic.

According to the civil society coalition monitoring the UN drafting process the following concrete pledges are missing from the draft Declaration:

  • Targets for universal access to prevention, treatment, and care, such as ensuring access to treatment for 80% of all people living with HIV worldwide by 2010;
  • Comprehensive prevention strategies for all vulnerable populations;
  • Substitution therapy for intravenous drug users, and
  • Women’s reproductive and sexual health and rights. The document further fails to identify highly vulnerable and marginalized groups, such as sex workers, injecting drug users, prisoners, migrants, and people in conflict situations.

“We came here because in the last five years many new issues have emerged that were not anticipated when the 2001 Declaration of Commitment was signed. This new draft declaration is simply not bold enough. It does not address the changing realities of the AIDS epidemic,” said one of the protesters. “Today, for example, we can afford to treat people with antiretroviral therapy – which we couldn’t do five years ago because drug prices were still so high. But in the room right now, governments have refused to set a target for treatment because they are afraid that this will be used to hold them accountable.”

Since 2001 the AIDS epidemic has shifted. In Eastern Europe, for example, there is an explosion of new infections among intravenous drug users, who need immediate access to clean needles and substitution therapy to avoid infection. In sub-Saharan Africa, there has been a feminization of the epidemic. Women now make up the majority of those infected.

Yet commitments to providing substitution therapy and to promoting women’s rights were rejected by conservative governments.

Many of the goals left out of today’s draft declaration would have represented a significant advancement to the 2001 Declaration of Commitment. According to another protester, “We demand a political commitment from governments that moves our struggle against AIDS forward rather than back.”

Source: Press release

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