Declaration points to a future focus on key affected populations in global HIV and AIDS response

تم النشر: 15 يونيو 2011 15:31 CET

By Maude Froberg in New York

Few causes bring together the UN Member States and the civil society as much as the response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic. The High Level Meeting to review the achievements in realizing the Declaration of Commitment and the Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS at the UN headquarters in New York 8-10 June was no exception. The meeting brought together 3,000 participants, including 30 Heads of State and government, along with senior officials, representatives of international organizations, civil society and people living with HIV, to chart a path for the future of the AIDS response.
In light of this desire to create a more tolerant and inclusive society, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) joined forces with the International HIV/AIDS Alliance to call for a more targeted response in addressing the needs, as well as the human rights, of key populations such as those who inject drugs, men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers and transgender people.
On 9 June, the governments of United Kingdom (represented by Minister for International Development, Stephen O’Brien) and South Africa (with Social Development Minister, Bathabile Dlamini), joined forces with the IFRC, the Alliance and a range of supporting partners, to put forward their respective challenges and recommendations according to the theme ‘A Dialogue on HIV and Human Rights: Universal access for Key Affected Populations.’
Alexei Kurmanayevsky spoke on behalf of people who inject drugs and people living with HIV and AIDS. “The criminalization of people who use drugs and the widespread stigma and discrimination against our community results in people hiding and living in fear and secrecy. The severe sanctions against people who use drugs are leading us into higher levels of drug use and undermining HIV prevention strategies,” he said.  Kurmanayevsky called for governments to involve people who use drugs in design, implementation and monitoring the HIV response.
Marcela Romero, Coordinator of the Latin American Network of Transgender People, took the floor to share a grave concern about the lack of adequate health services for transgender people. “Health service providers aren’t trained to treat transgender people, who today will seek medical care only days or hours before passing away. The life expectancy among transgender people across the region is 35 years,” she said.
Moreover, the region is seeing a worrying increase in violence against transgender people. Eight out of ten transgender murders in the world take place in Latin America.
Othman Mellouk, Co-Chair of Global Forum on MSM and HIV, shared the success of some dynamic advocacy work in Morocco, which has led to MSM-related needs now being taken into consideration in the National Strategic HIV plan. “The human rights situation in Morrocco has improved in the ten last years. However, issues of sexual orientation and gender identity remain highly stigmatized, which creates barriers to universal access,” he said.
Nonetheless, a solid HIV response for MSM–prevention, care and support–has been established across the country thanks to the Moroccan Association for the Fight Against AIDS (ALCS), catering for the specific needs of MSM. As a recommendation, Mellouk stressed the importance of national AIDS strategies to be evidence-based and tailored to key affected populations.
Paninah Mwangi, Executive Director of Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme (BHESP) addressed the ambiguity of the laws on sex work, which in many countries has lead to different forms of human rights violations. Sex workers have responded to these violations by organizing themselves and seeking recognition for their human rights. “I would recommend global donors to allocate at least 12 per cent of total allocations for key affected populations,” Mwangi said.
The challenges, as well as the recommendations from these key affected populations, were noted by Professor Michel Kazachkine, Executive Director of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Kazachkine, who did not shun away from voicing his disappointment in the negotiations of the Outcome Declaration which struggled to mention the most vulnerable groups, pointed to the necessity of tailoring the HIV response to these groups. “Your leadership will change history and bring hope to millions around the world,” he said.
Jan Beagle, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Management and External Relations, stressed the need for a rights-based approach when addressing HIV. “Full respect for the human rights of key populations and evidence-based interventions targeted to the realities they face, as well as support for their leadership and capacity to find solutions for their communities, are all critical to advance the AIDS response,” Ms Beagle said.
On a final note, Under-Secretary General Matthias Schmale reaffirmed the IFRC’s commitment to serve as a bridge between governments and civil society actors to make sure that the rights and dignity of the most marginalized are protected and enhanced.
“We also associate ourselves with the call to law makers and governments to abolish laws that fuel HIV transmission,” Matthias Schmale said. “You and the community you represent are a source of inspiration, of pride, a lesson of humility, of courage and dignity and we really want to thank you all for paving way.”
At the conclusion of the High Level Meeting, Marwan Jilani, Head of the IFRC Delegation, said in a statement to the General Assembly that since the onset of the HIV epidemic, actions had focused on implementing comprehensive HIV programmes at community and household levels, by empowering people with information on prevention, carrying out home-based care programmes, promoting adherence to antiretroviral therapy and implementing harm-reduction programmes for injecting-drug users, among other initiatives. 
Despite ‘remarkable’ achievements in improving the quality of life of people living with HIV and AIDS, many millions are still waiting for antiretroviral therapy and the prevalence of HIV infection is on the rise in some countries. The federation’s strategy for the next decade is focused on ‘saving lives and changing minds’ and the organization will work closely with Governments and civil society organizations to promote country- and people-owned responses.
The Outcome Declaration, which was adopted by UN Member States of the General Assembly on 10 June contains clear, measurable targets that will guide the global AIDS response for the next decade.