(AP) — The United Nations General Assembly unanimously approved a declaration Tuesday calling for urgent action to end AIDS by 2030, noting “with alarm” that the COVID-19
pandemic has exacerbated inequalities and pushed access to AIDS medicines, treatments, and diagnosis even further off track.
The declaration commits the assembly's 193 member nations to implementing the 18-page document, which includes a goal of reducing annual new HIV
infections to under 370,000 and AIDS-related deaths to under 250,000 by 2025, as well as progress toward eliminating all forms of HIV-related stigma and discrimination and urgent work
toward an HIV vaccine and a cure for AIDS.
The assembly warned that “we will not end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 unless we significantly increase resources and coverage for the vulnerable and infected.”
According to the report, the coronavirus pandemic
has hampered efforts to combat AIDS by “widening fault lines within a deeply unequal world and exposing the dangers of underinvestment in public health
, health systems, and other essential public services for all, as well as pandemic preparedness.”
At the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on AIDS, Member States adopted a set of new and ambitious targets in a political declaration. If met, 3.6 million new HIV infections and 1.7 million AIDS-related deaths will be avoided by 2030.#HLM2021AIDS — UNAIDS (@UNAIDS) June 8, 2021
While international investment in response to the pandemic has been insufficient, the assembly stated that it is unprecedented.
Many nations' response to the coronavirus has demonstrated "the potential and urgency for greater investment" in responding to pandemics, underscoring "the imperative of increasing investments for public health systems, including responses to HIV and other diseases moving
forward," according to the report.
The resolution was approved by a vote of 165-4 during the opening session of a three-day high-level meeting on AIDS, with Russia
, and Nicaragua voting
Prior to the vote, the assembly overwhelmingly rejected three Russian amendments.
They would have removed references to human rights
violations that perpetuate the global AIDS epidemic, as well as a “rights-based” collaborative approach by UNAIDS, the U.N. agency leading the global effort to end the AIDS pandemic
. They would also have removed references to reforming discriminatory laws, including on the age of consent
, and on interventions to treat HIV among intravenous drug users, including
Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director, welcomed the declaration's adoption, saying it "will be the foundation of our work to end this pandemic that has ravaged communities for 40 years."
She described AIDS as “one of the deadliest pandemics of modern times,” claiming that 77.5 million people
have been infected with the virus since the first case was reported in 1981, and nearly 35 million have died as a result of the disease.
“HIV rates are not following the trajectory that we collectively promised,” she said, adding that “in the aftermath of the COVID crisis, we may even see a resurgent pandemic.”
According to Byanyima, COVID-19 demonstrated that science
moves “at the speed of political will,” and he urged increased spending on AIDS treatment, prevention, care, and vaccines
as “global public goods.”
On the plus side, the declaration stated that there has been a 54% reduction in AIDS-related deaths and a 37% reduction in HIV infections globally since 2001, but it also warned that “overall progress has slowed dangerously since 2016.”
The assembly expressed “grave concern” that there were 1.7 million new HIV infections in 2019 compared to the global target of fewer than 500,000 infections by 2020, and that new HIV infections have increased in at least 33 countries since 2016.
Africa, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, has made the most progress in combating the AIDS epidemic, but it remains the worst-affected region, according to the assembly, which called for “urgent and exceptional action” to mitigate the infection’s devastating effects, particularly on women
girls, and children
Members of the Assembly applauded progress in reducing HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths in Asia and the Pacific, the Caribbean, Western and Central Europe, and North America, but noted that “the Caribbean continues to have the highest prevalence outside Sub-Saharan Africa,” and that the number of new HIV infections is increasing in eastern Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, and the United States
Byanyima emphasized the importance of eliminating inequalities in drug availability and ensuring that medicines that can prevent HIV deaths are manufactured at affordable prices by multiple producers, “particularly in the global south, where the disease is concentrated.”
“This moment necessitates collaboration across sectors and borders,” she said, adding that “populism’s false promises are no match for biology: as COVID reminds us, we are not just interconnected, but inseparable.”
“We cannot end AIDS in one country or continent; we can only end AIDS everywhere,” said Byanyima.