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GLOBAL: World Aids Day 2012

(United Nations) As the world heads into the fourth decade of AIDS, it is finally in a position to end the epidemic, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, leading a chorus of United Nations officials in calling for the political will, investments and determination to reach this goal.

“Momentum is on our side. Let us use it to end AIDS – once and for all,” Mr. Ban said in his message for World AIDS Day, observed on Dec. 1 each year.

“The progress we have made so far is proof that we can realize our vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths,” he added.

The number of new HIV infections has fallen by more than 20 per cent since 1997, Mr. Ban noted. New infections are continuing to decline in most parts of the world. In addition, treatment has averted 2.5 million AIDS-related deaths since 1985, saving 700,000 lives last year alone.

“But, to end AIDS, we need to deliver even greater results,” stressed the Secretary-General. “We must build on the political commitments, investments, energy, activism and determination that have brought us to this turning point.”

Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), noted it has been a year of achievements, of collective action, of resilience and of courage. Despite the economic downturn that has stretched the AIDS response to its limits, millions of lives have been saved, as HIV treatment and prevention efforts continue to show results, he said.

“Never before in the history of AIDS have we reached a moment where we are able to stand up and say with conviction the end of AIDS is in sight,” he stated in his message.

“The road before us is clear and we can accelerate ahead with smart investments, capitalizing on scientific advancements and evidence and respecting human rights,” Mr. Sidibé said, calling on countries, donors and others to reach the global investment target of $22-24 billion for the AIDS response. “Only together can we secure the future and provide greater and long-term dividends.”

In a related development, Mr. Sidibé welcomed China’s decision to fill its HIV resource gap by increasing domestic investments. The new commitment from China comes at a crucial moment, according to UNAIDS, as resources for AIDS are declining and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is facing a major setback in resource mobilization.

The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is “Getting to Zero,” which reflects both optimism and the need to do much more, the President of the General Assembly said in his message, noting that the challenges ahead are “sobering.”

While more than 6.5 million people now receive life-saving treatment, 7.6 million still have no access to it, said Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser. In 2010 alone, 1.8 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses, and there were 2.7 million new HIV infections.

“We cannot allow hard-won gains to unravel,” said Mr. Al-Nasser. “I call on all stakeholders to uphold their commitments, and to work together to sustain and accelerate the progress.”

A number of other senior UN officials issued messages, adding their voices to the call for sustained action to finally rid the world of the epidemic. They include the Executive Director of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov; the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova; and the Director-General of the International Labor Organization (ILO), Juan Somavia.

The UN World Food Program (WFP) marked the Day by emphasizing the importance of providing food and nutrition support to people living with HIV and their families.

“Poor nutritional status and HIV can reinforce each other in a vicious circle,” said Martin Bloem, WFP’s chief of nutrition and HIV/AIDS policy. “WFP works with communities and health centers around the world to ensure that people affected by HIV and AIDS receive comprehensive support that nourishes and strengthens their bodies.”

In 2010, WFP supported 2.5 million people in 44 countries through its HIV and tuberculosis programs, providing food and nutrition support to some 1.3 million people living with HIV as part of their anti-retroviral treatment (ART) or TB treatment and another 1.2 million people affected by these diseases. It aims to reach about the same number of people this year.

Yesterday, the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and UNAIDS released their report on the global HIV/AIDS response, highlighting the fact that there is a very real possibility of getting ahead of the epidemic.

This can only be achieved, however, by both sustaining and accelerating the current momentum over the next decade and beyond, the agencies stressed.

Meanwhile, a UN Development Programs (UNDP) study released today says that households in Asia that include people living with HIV exhaust their savings and liquidate assets at a disproportionately high rate, often plunging into “irreversible poverty.”

Catastrophic health care costs, stigma, unemployment, and bad credit also mean these households – which start out with fewer assets – consume less food of lower quality and keep fewer children in school, said the report, which calls for urgent mitigation measures, including HIV-sensitive social protection to help tens of thousands of households in the region.


Learn about how Salesian Missions is working to fight HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia through a project funded by USAID.