Act now to prevent AIDS rebound, warns UN chief

At a high-level meeting on ending AIDS that opened at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, member states 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 the opening of the meeting.

''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, which runs through Friday, brings together heads of state and government, ministers, people living with HIV, representatives from civil society and international organisations, 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).

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 scarce – in 2007, only 3 million people, or one-third of those in need, had access to lifesaving 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.

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.