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UN chief concerned about HIV/AIDS approach in the region

With over a quarter of a million HIV-infected persons reportedly living in the Caribbean, visiting United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is renewing a call for regional governments to make swift changes to legislation that promote discrimination as a measure to contain the spread of the mostly sexually transmitted virus which causes AIDS.

This morning, addressing the launch of the Report of the UNAIDS and Lancet Commission that coincided with the 36th regular CARICOM Heads of Government Summit here, Ban noted that regional countries were struggling to address the epidemic with limited resources at their disposal.

The UN Secretary General challenged the region’s youth to be champions of change.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

“The epidemic is only made worse by laws and stigma. These are [impacting] our vulnerability to HIV infection and our answers to life saving achievements. They threaten both human rights and public health. We cannot tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or on the basis of gender identity,” the UN chief said, also calling for the human rights of sex workers and persons who inject themselves with drugs to be defended.

“We can leave no one behind. AIDS can only end when we protect the human rights of all . . . We have to [correct] all kinds of societal ills including stigma, intolerance, discrimination and violence. To end this epidemic, we need gender equality. We need to protect the sexual and reproductive rights,” Ban emphasized.

Noting that the world was spending about US$19 billion annually to address HIV/AIDS, Ban said in order to reach the global goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, that figure would have to be doubled.

The report, which examined data from more than 100 countries, said that while enormous gains have been made around the world to control the spread of the HIV/AIDS, there were concerning signs of complacency and setbacks in countries and populations that had previously made good progress. It also noted that investments in HIV prevention, particularly for populations at high risk “and in hot spots” for HIV transmission, have been consistently insufficient, resulting in continuing high rates of infection and mortality in these populations.

“Not enough attention was being paid to HIV tests and viral load monitoring, standardization of treatment regimes, the securing of more affordable second-line and third-line antiretroviral drugs, quality of chronic HIV care and services or other needs of people living with HIV,” the report said.

The report added: “More must be done to scale up what is known to work, in particular to reach populations at highest risk, to broadcast widely innovative best practices, and to address weaknesses and learn from mistakes.”

The report also noted: “Some countries have chosen to let sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people and people who inject drugs die of AIDS rather than change the laws and policies that prevent them from accessing the services they need.”

The UNAIDS and Lancet Commission study, which was carried out over a two-year period, is recommending that countries should get serious about HIV prevention; forge new paths to uphold human rights and address criminalization, stigma and discrimination using practical approaches to change laws, polices and public attitudes that violate human rights; demand robust accountability, transparency and better data; reinforce and renew the leadership engagement of people living with HIV and invest more in research and innovation in all facets of the AIDS response. 

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