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[afro-nets] UNGASS declaration far short of civil society expectations

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 
Southern Africa.

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]."


Omololu Falobi

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