U.N. Calls For More Action To End AIDS

The United Nations (UN) called for more action from the international community to end AIDS and adopted a set of specific targets at the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on AIDS on June 8th. According to The Associated Press, the General Assembly concurred that the COVID-19 pandemic set back efforts and heightened health inequalities all over the world. In effect, they’re hoping to get countries back on track to meet the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in which the third goal is to end the AIDS epidemic. According to Al Jazeera, the declaration solidifies investments from member-states that would provide more funding to low-income countries and install safeguards that ensure members of marginalized communities receive proper care. The declaration was adopted with 165 votes in favor, while Russia, Nicaragua, Belarus, and Syria voted against.

According to The Associated Press, the Assembly warned that “without a huge increase in resources and coverage for those vulnerable and infected, we will not end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.” The Associated Press also explained that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the trajectory of fighting the AIDS pandemic, “widening fault lines within a deeply unequal world and exposing the dangers of under-investment in public health, health systems and other essential public services for all and pandemic preparedness.” The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said much of the continuation of the AIDS epidemic, as explained by Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, “can be attributed to intersectional injustices that drive new HIV infections and prevent people from accessing services.” 

The UN’s Project 2030 productively draws attention to the increased urgency of taking measures that strengthen the support of those living with diseases in areas affected by humanitarian issues. However, the recent declaration’s potential efficacy lies in its member-state agreement to invest US$29 billion annually in low and middle-income countries, with US$3 billion going towards investing in processes that help reduce stigmas, discrimination, and law reform. According to Al Jazeera, Russia failed to alter language in a bid that they said pushed countries to decriminalize prostitution and sex work. UNAIDS said this sentiment was in response to the tenet of ensuring that less than 10% of countries have restrictive legal and policy frameworks that lead to the denial or limitation of access to health services. However, as presented in Al Jazeera, the Australian UN Ambassador Mitch Fifield, targets like this are imperative to ensuring the reduction of HIV and AIDS by 2025. Discriminatory laws and practices that prohibit certain individuals from receiving care are what have allowed the HIV epidemic to persist for years. Russia’s apprehension to change its legislation draws attention to its blatantly discriminatory laws.

This recent initiative is a positive step towards ensuring that marginalized communities are no longer disproportionately affected by AIDS, both from a physical and from a mental standpoint. Often, health services aren’t offered to those who need them most, so investing in therapeutic and medical programs while placing an increased emphasis on ensuring that those who need the services most are receiving them is imperative to ending AIDS. Until now, the international response has not adequately cared for communities dealing with systemic issues beyond the disease. 

The AIDS epidemic began 30 years ago and continues to claim lives to this day. Approximately 7 million people have been infected with HIV since 1981, and nearly 35 million have died from AIDS, according to the Al Jazeera website. The quick development of the COVID-19 vaccine illuminated the will of the international community to respond quickly. However, as Winnie Byanima explained in Al Jazeera, the quick development can be attributed to the strength of the political will. The Associated Press stated that creating a political declaration sets the wheels in motion towards attaining the goals of the 2030 Agenda, which also seeks to place a focus on developing an AIDS vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccine rollout and medical care for the disease also showed the ways in which certain countries may have more difficulty in attaining vaccines and having the proper infrastructure to treat patients, meaning that making sure everyone has equal access to HIV treatments throughout the world and not only within certain communities is incredibly necessary. 

The UN’s recent political declaration that holds countries accountable for their AIDS response is the most positive step towards ending the epidemic so far. It adds efficacy to Project 2030 by ensuring that there are investments from member-states that create urgent medical responses and provide care for marginalized communities. Further, the push to eliminate discriminatory laws that prevent people from receiving care is also important if the UN’s sustainable development project aims to meet the 2030 goal. If all countries uphold the tenets of the political declaration then the end of the AIDS epidemic is potentially on the horizon. Ultimately, eradicating diseases that exacerbate inequalities is vital to creating a more peaceful world. 

Rachel Simpson