13 Jun 2016

Are countries really serious about ending AIDS?

The Political Declaration agreed to at the High Level Meeting is a major disappointment. The Declaration poses some serious questions for the movement of people living with HIV as we go into the LIVING 2016 Positive leadership Summit, including whether some Member States are actually serious about ending HIV.

There are some positive elements to the UN declaration. It calls for delivering treatment to 30 million people by the year 2020. Key populations—men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who inject drugs, transgender people, and prisoners—are listed in one paragraph. Unfortunately, there is no explicit recognition that people from key populations are at risk precisely because of the intentionally maintained invisibility of transgender people and the criminalisation of same sex practices, use of drugs and sex work. There are some advances in the Declaration on language related to the human rights of women and girls, but excitement is tempered by the continued failure to get the full language of “sexual reproductive health and rights”. The Declaration also commits to eliminate barriers, including stigma and discrimination in health-care settings. Nevertheless, the language on rights is weak.

The process of the High Level Meeting itself was marred with exclusion and last minute attempts to weaken an already weak text. Prior to the High Level Meeting due to the objections of Member States, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, 22 organisations representing gay and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, and people who use drugs weren’t accredited to attend. Late in the process Russia tried to get changes to oppose language on harm reduction. After adoption of the Declaration several member states expressed their immediate reservations about specific parts of the text. Despite the limitations in the document, many government representatives spoke openly about the need to address key populations for an effective HIV response’, the success of which is dependent on what takes place within countries and communities.

This declaration is arguably the most ambitious one ever. It’s supposed to provide us with the compass for AIDS policy, law, financing, and programming to end AIDS by 2030. Unfortunately, what the High Level Meeting suggests is how little several Member States are actually committed to ending AIDS. As we go into LIVING 2016 questions for the Movement of People with HIV emerge.

Do we need to care about this declaration? If so, what are the implications of its content for people living with HIV and the work we do for our communities? As donor governments withdraw funding to middle income countries, how will the needs of key populations be met, given the animosity directed towards them by so many member states? What should be the content and form of our advocacy? Can we use this declaration for our advocacy, at global, regional and national level?

Clearly, the global AIDS response the diplomats have carved out for us isn’t what we want. We will have our work cut out for us at LIVING 2016. We will pose these and more questions. We have designed the Programme to allow discussion on these issues. We have also built in space to hold discussions on burning questions that emerge in the course of the two days. Despite our obvious frustrations we are excited to have this opportunity to reinvent the state of the world together.

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