TWN Info Service on Health Issues (June 06/5)

13 June 2006

Civil society groups unhappy with AIDS Summit outcome

At the recent UN meeting on AIDS, international organisations were disappointed that the declaration adopted by governments was weak on commitments to fight the disease, and that vulnerable groups have been left out in the document. The article below outlines some of the concerns expressed by the participants. It is taken with permission from the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) # 6041, 7 June 2006. 

With best wishes
Evelyne Hong

AIDS summit averts gaze from those most at risk

Thalif Deen, IPS, New York, 2 Jun 2006

The United Nations concluded a three-day meeting of world political leaders Friday by adopting an eight-page declaration calling for "strong national targets and comprehensive HIV prevention strategies" to fight the deadly disease AIDS.

But most civil society groups - which demanded less talk and more tangible progress - described the political declaration as "weak".

"Time is running out," said Millicent Obaso of the international humanitarian organisation CARE, who called for urgent concrete action to prevent the accelerated spread of the devastating disease, which has killed more than 25 million people over the last two decades.

"During the three days delegates met in New York," Obaso said, "24,000 people died of AIDS and 48,000 people contracted the deadly virus that causes AIDS."

UN General Assembly President Jan Eliasson said he would not accept any "complete rejection" of the declaration.

He told reporters that the high-level meeting brought 191 member states and over 800 civil society groups "in a genuine and vibrant interaction".

"The voices of those living with HIV, and of other groups, have been powerfully heard," he said, "and this has contributed significantly to what I see as a good, substantial and forward-looking declaration."

"We are furious," said Aditi Sharma of ActionAid International, because "vulnerable groups such as intravenous drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men have been made invisible" in the declaration.

Asked about time-bound targets to fight the disease, Sharma told IPS: "The US delegates certainly opposed global targets and timelines," she said.

"We are also concerned that African negotiators opposed the recognition of the official African Common Position agreed in Abuja just weeks ago which sets targets and timelines for African governments," Sharma added.

She pointed out that several countries - in particular the Islamic nations - were responsible for the lack of mention of who the "vulnerable groups" are, specifically excluding homosexuals, prostitutes and drug users.

During Thursday's negotiations, the prolonged discussions on "vulnerable groups" continued into the early hours of the morning. As a result of the deadlock, delegates agreed not to single out any groups by name.

"While ActionAid is disappointed by the outcome document, we will redouble our efforts, particularly at national levels, to mobilise greater public opinion and political action to ensure that our governments meet the targets they committed to in the (earlier) 2001 declaration and also the goal of universal access to treatment by 2010," she added.

Asked about the criticism by civil society groups, the executive director of UNAIDS, Peter Piot, told reporters that these groups "want the maximum - and they denounce until they get the maximum". He also said: "We agree with some of the points they raise and we disagree with others." But he did not elaborate.

Striking a more positive note, Piot said the declaration moves the global response to AIDS a significant step forward by acknowledging both the need for AIDS crisis management today and for a sustained, long-term response to AIDS in the years to come.

"Member states took on the difficult issues brought forward by country constituencies and civil society," he said. "The result is a strong declaration that endorses strong national targets, comprehensive HIV prevention strategies, and protection for all people at risk for HIV."

But Adrienne Germain, president of the International Women's Health Coalition, had a different take on it. In a statement released Friday, she said there were two main disappointments in the new declaration, particularly compared with the outcome of the original 2001 UN meeting on HIV/AIDS.

"First of all, governments failed to indicate exactly by when they will fully implement their substantial 2001 commitments. And, second, language on financing has been greatly watered down compared to the robust financial target of 2001, which governments met," she said.

"This only underscores the importance of civil society in holding governments accountable to their commitments, and also in the implementation of these commitments," Germain added.

The declaration adopted Friday estimates that $20 to $23 billion will be needed per year by 2010 to support rapidly scaled-up AIDS response in low- and middle-income countries.

UN member states have been asked to "take measures to ensure that new and additional resources are made available from donor countries, and also from national budgets and other national sources".