AFRICA: UNGASS draft declaration far short of civil society expectations
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
NEW YORK, 2 June (PLUSNEWS) - The UN declaration reviewing global progress on
HIV/AIDS released on Friday has failed to win the endorsement of civil society
groups, disappointed by the lack of ambition in the text.
Late on Thursday, AIDS activists were still trying to enlist the help of
sympathetic country delegations to strengthen language in the draft document on
targets, affirmation of the rights of women and girls, "harm reduction"
measures for injecting drug users, and recognition of the needs of other
vulnerable groups such as sex workers, prisoners and migrants.
In a statement, a coalition of AIDS activists representing more than 100
organisations said a draft of the political declaration "fell far short of
expectations at a time when 8,000 people a day die of AIDS globally".
The declaration negotiated at the UN High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS was always
going to be a compromise between conservative governments and those demanding a
bolder response to halt the epidemic, including reaching out to marginalised
During three days of meetings in New York, NGOs urged governments to make a
commitment that would mark a real and measurable step forward from the
agreement reached at the 2001 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on
The UNGASS document was anchored to a list of goals, which most governments
failed woefully to achieve. But no clearly defined targets or timeframes have
been included in the high-level report, negotiated between regional delegations
and two UN General Assembly co-chairs, who, activists pointed out, had no
specific experience in HIV/AIDS.
Although the declaration recognises that US$20 billion to $23 billion a year
will be needed by 2010 to support "rapidly scaled-up AIDS responses" in
developing countries, it aims to only "come as close as possible" to universal
access to prevention, treatment and care.
"That is an escape clause to achieving universal access by 2010," said Sisonke
Msimang, HIV/AIDS programme manager for the Open Society Initiative for
But Michel Sidibe, director of the Department of Country and Regional Support
at UNAIDS, was more upbeat over the opportunity presented by the conference.
"The world wants by 2010 to be as close as possible to universal access. It's a
huge task, but not a dream - it requires better coordination of funding,
provision of services and a well-costed, evidence-based planning system."
Five years on from UNGASS 2001, he regarded the "strong voice of civil society"
at the conference as a "breakthrough" in achieving critical partnerships at
national level, while universal access marked an opportunity to "move from
crisis management to a more strategic response", which countries now owned and
could be held accountable for.
Particularly galling to African NGOs was that their governments, negotiating in
New York under the leadership of Gabon, chose to ignore a pre-agreed common
position that included targets. In preparation for the UN meeting, The African
Union (AU) had drawn up a comprehensive programme with a number of goals in
Abuja, Nigeria, including a commitment to reach 80 percent of people needing
treatment by 2010.
Apart from Nigeria, no other African country challenged Gabon's interpretation
of the common position.
"I think the [draft] declaration is very weak, and the most disappointing thing
is the lack of targets. Our African governments have let us down, and [the
irony is that] it is our continent which is the worst affected," said Emma
Tuahepa, coordinator of Namibia's National Association of People Living with
Msimang agreed: "It undermines the AU and the work that has been done [in
achieving a common position], and countries might see this as an opportunity to
backtrack [on the commitments made at Abuja]."