Bold new plans

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Post by Robert Mitchell01 Sep 2011

Over ten years ago, the United Nations adopted its first declaration of commitment on AIDS. While the plan was ground-breaking, it neglected to include the three groups universally at higher risk of HIV: men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers.

In June 2011, I had the opportunity to the represent HIV-positive people of Australia at a UN special session on HIV. The meeting coincided with the 30th anniversary of the first public report of AIDS in June 1981.

The special session was held to review progress and to agree upon a new set of declarations which will guide the global response for the next five years.

Today, the epidemic affects every part of the world and has claimed about 36 million lives. As of 2012, another 35.3 million people are living with HIV and there are some 7,000 new infections every day. In Australia, up to 34,000 people are currently living with HIV and more than 7,500 positive people have died.

The UN meeting brought together government leaders as well as advocates from medical, scientific and community sectors and people living with HIV from all over the world.

Government delegations were encouraged to contain representatives from those communities most affected by HIV, and Australia had one of the largest delegations in attendance.

The Australian response to HIV is cited as a model that has been most effective in containing the epidemic and we were often approached to discuss our experience.

Australia had a high profile at the meeting and we played an important role in drafting and negotiating the new declaration.

For the first time, the UN was able to agree to list gay men, injecting drug users and sex workers. Along with targeting other key populations at risk (specifically youth and women, who are often disproportionately affected), these key groups are to be given high priority by all countries in their HIV prevention plans.

The new UN Declaration contains an extensive list of new commitments. Bold targets have been set to halve the rates of new infections from sexual transmission and injecting drug use by 2015. Countries have also agreed that HIV transmission from mother to child must be eliminated by 2015.

It also contains a commitment to ensure that another 14 million people are able to start HIV treatment by 2015 as part of a goal to provide universal access to treatment for all.

While the UN Plan reiterates that prevention must be the mainstay of the global response, it acknowledges the centrality of positive people to this response. Other significant elements of the declaration include acknowledging the human rights of positive people and addressing the stigma and discrimination we often experience.

Specific mention is also made of the need to eliminate travel restrictions for people with HIV.

While Australia has responded well over the past 30 years, we must always be prepared to look for ways to improve. Our challenge now is to take on board the targets set out in this declaration and to change, where necessary, our national strategies in order to achieve these desired outcomes.