UNITED NATIONS, June 9 (APP): Member States of the United Nations has  adopted a new political declaration that includes a set of time-bound targets to fast-track the pace of progress towards combating the worldwide scourge of HIV and AIDS over the next five years and end the epidemic as a public health threat by 2030.

“AIDS is far from over,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized
at Wednesday’s opening of the high-level meeting, which will run through Friday.

“Over the next five years, we have a window of opportunity to
radically change the trajectory of the epidemic and put an end to AIDS forever. Despite remarkable progress, if we do not act, there is a danger the epidemic will rebound in low- and middle-income countries,” he added.

The high-level meeting brings together heads of State and Government,  ministers, people living with HIV, representatives from civil society and international organizations, the private sector, scientists and researchers to build on the commitments made in the Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS and to set the world on course to end the epidemic by 2030 within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Pakistan is being represented by a four-member delegation led by
Parliamentary Secretary for Health Darshan Punchiis. It includes the Director of National AIDS Programme, Dr. Abdul Baseer Khan Achakzai, Balochistan’s Health Secretary Umar Baloch and a representative of the Civil Society.

Negotiated by the member states of the UN, the new declaration aims at  scaling up national and international support and cooperation to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, which is also specifically, participants will focus on the importance of a fast-track approach to HIV during the next five years in order to ensure that global efforts are accelerated during that time, as highlighted in the Secretary-General’s report, On the fast track to ending the AIDs epidemic.

The Fast-Track approach of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)  aims to achieve such targets as fewer than 500,000 people newly infected with HIV; fewer than 500,000 people dying from AIDS-related illnesses; and eliminating HIV-related discrimination.

In his remarks, Ban noted that when he became Secretary-General 10 years  ago, AIDS was still devastating families, communities and nations. In many low-income countries, treatment was scare – in 2007, only 3 million people, or one-third of those in need, had access to life-saving antiretroviral drugs.

“We have made enormous progress. Since 2000 the global total of people  receiving antiretroviral treatment doubled every three to four years, thanks to cheaper drugs, increased competition and new funding. Today, more than 17 billion people are being treated, saving millions of lives and billions of dollars,” the Secretary-General said.

Furthermore, the world has achieved Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 6  “which included halting and reversing the AIDS epidemic” and new HIV infections have declined by 35 per cent since 2000, the UN chief said.

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Noting that he was particularly happy that new HIV infections among
children were down by 56 per cent in the past 15 years, the Secretary-General said that four countries had eliminating them completely: Armenia, Belarus, Cuba and Thailand.

“None of this could have happened without the leadership of people
living with HIV, and civil society partners on the ground around the world. They believed that more equitable treatment and access was possible, and they made sure that we responded,” Ban said.

“They broke the silence and shone a light on discrimination,
intolerance and stigma. They brought their passion to their fight, and that passion will make the end of AIDS a reality,” he added.

Reiterating that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development affirms the  global commitment to ending the AIDS epidemic within 15 years, the Secretary-General stressed that action now could avert an estimated 17.6 million new infections and 11 million premature deaths between 2016 and 2030.

“But we must make a radical change within the next five years, if we
are to achieve that goal,” Ban said. “That requires commitment at every level: from the global health infrastructure, to all Member States, civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations, to the United Nations Security Council that has dealt with AIDS as a humanitarian issue and a threat to human and national security.”

The Secretary-General called on the international community to reinforce  and expand on the “unique, multi-sector, multi-actor approach” of UNAIDS, and to ensure that the annual target of $26 billion in funding, including $13 billion for the next three years, is met.

“It means continued advocacy to the most vulnerable groups; and
approaches that promote gender equality and empower women.

It means leaving no one behind and removing punitive laws, policies and practices that violate people’s dignity and human rights,” Mr. Ban said.

Also speaking at the opening of the high-level meeting was the UN
General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft, who emphasized that the meeting was laying the groundwork for future progress in creating healthier outcomes for everyone affected by HIV, as well as building stronger societies prepared for future challenges.

“Today is the moment, therefore, that collectively, we signal our
intentions to strike out for victory, to fast-track efforts over the next five years and to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030,” he said.

“This is an epidemic that undermines development, significantly
impacts on economic growth and can be a major concern in conflict and post-conflict situations,” he added.

Encouraging participants to be mindful of and listen to the various
speakers who will be participating in the meeting over the coming days, Lykketoft called on all stakeholders to “step up to the plate.”

“We have to deliver greater global solidarity, bring more resources
and spend them more effectively. We have to bring even greater collaboration and partnership, building on the many excellent initiatives created these past two decades aimed at prevention, treatment, care and support,” he added.

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Lykketoft also stressed that stakeholders must also ensure that key
populations are fully included in AIDS responses and that services are made available to them.

“Ending the AIDS epidemic would be one of the greatest achievements of  our lifetimes. It can be done and it must be done,” he said.

Also speaking on Wedneday, Michel Sidib, Executive Director of UNAIDS,  said that the meeting represented an opportunity to end an epidemic that had defined public health for a generation.

“I know it was not easy, I know it was complex, but this political
declaration will certainly help us to close a door and open a new one for ending AIDS,” he said.

Referencing the UN Charter, Sidib thanked all stakeholders for their
collective efforts, commitment and support in combatting the AIDS epidemic.

“We the people have broken the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic,” he

“We the people made this commitment together, and we delivered this
result together.

It was not a few of us. It was not some of us. The United Nations must always represent all of us,” he added.

Indeed, he said, the decisions made during the meeting will provide the
springboard for the implementation of an innovative and socially just agenda to end the AIDS epidemic.

“One by one, we are breaking the bonds of stigma, discrimination,
prejudice and exclusion. We should work to ensure that no one is left behind because of who they are or who they love,” he said.

“The door of the UN should be open to all. We cannot afford to silence
their voices as we come together to chart a course towards ending the AIDS epidemic,” he added.

The opening ceremony concluded with Ndaba Mandela, the grandson of the  late Nelson Mandela, who recalled that, when he was 21 years old, his father had died of AIDS.

Ndaba Mandela, grandson of former South African President Nelson Mandela  and activist engaged in the response to HIV/AIDS, addresses the General Assembly High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS.

“But my grandfather was not afraid of the truth. Nelson Mandela
instead spoke out loudly and with dignity: His only son, Makgatho Lewanika Mandela, had died of AIDS,” he said.

Noting that his father’s death was the beginning of a national
dialogue on AIDS in South Africa and global action around the world, Mr. Mandela said he was participating in the meeting to ask stakeholders to continue the legacy of leadership and unity.

“I am here to ask you to ensure that each of the 34 million people who
have died of AIDS have not died in vain,” he said.

Like Nelson Mandela said, “It is in our hands,” he added.