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Africa: Backsliding on AIDS Commitments

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Jun 3, 2006 (060603)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"U.N. Strengthens Call for a Global Battle against AIDS," reads the headline in the New York Times. But AIDS activist groups that demonstrated and lobbied for specific commitments and strong language at the UN meeting on AIDS disagreed. Instead, they accused governments of backsliding and failing to adopt specific targets against which they could be held accountable.

Although the final declaration recognises that US$20 billion to $23 billion a year will be needed by 2010 to support "rapidly scaled-up AIDS responses" in developing countries, it aims to only "come as close as possible" to universal access to prevention, treatment and care.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin continues statements released by international and African civil society groups after and during the meeting. Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today contains excerpts from the Africa section of the latest update on the AIDS epidemic by UNAIDS.

For additional background on the UN meetings and civil society actions, visit
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on health issues, visit

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International civil society denounce UN meeting on AIDS as a failure

Press release

June 2, 2006

For more information contact: Asia Russell +1 (267) 475 2645 or Kieran Daly +1 (416) 275 8413

Civil society groups from around the world denounced the final UN Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, released after marathon negotiations during the UN High Level meeting on AIDS this week.

"Once more we are disappointed at the failure to demonstrate real political leadership in the fight against the pandemic" said The Most Revd Njongonkulu Ndungane, the Anglican Archbishop of Capetown. "Even at this late stage, we call on the world's political leaders to rise up and meet the challenges that the pandemic presents and to set ambitious targets at a national level to guarantee universal access to treatment, care, support and prevention."

UN Member States refused to commit to hard targets on funding, prevention, care and treatment. They rejected frank acknowledgement that some of the today's fastest growing HIV epidemics are happening among injecting and other drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men. "The final outcome document is pathetically weak. It is remarkable at this stage in the global epidemic that governments can not set the much needed targets nor can they can name in the document the very people that are most vulnerable" said Sisonke Msimang of the African Civil Society Coalition.

"African governments have displayed a stunning degree of apathy, irresponsibility, and complete disrespect for any of the agreements they made in the last few months" said Leonard Okello, Head of HIV/AIDS for Action Aid International. "The negotiation processes was guided by trading political, economic and other interests of the big and powerful countries rather than the glaring facts and statistics of the global AIDS crisis, seventy percent of which is in Sub-Saharan Africa."

African government delegations reneged on their promises in the 2006 Abuja Common position agreed to by African Heads of State. South Africa and Egypt, in particular, took a deliberate decision to oppose the setting of targets on prevention and treatment, despite the fact that both participated in the Abuja Summit that endorsed ambitious targets to be reached by 2010. "The continent that is most ravaged by AIDS has demonstrated a complete lack of leadership. It is a sad, sad day as an African to be represented by such poor leadership" said Omololu Faloubi of the African Civil Society Coalition.

But the African governments were not alone. The United States was particularly damaging to the prospects for a strong declaration. Throughout the negotiations they moved time and again to weaken language on HIV prevention, low-cost drugs and trade agreements and to eliminate commitments on targets for funding and treatment. "It's death by diplomacy," said Eric Sawyer, veteran activist and 25-year survivor of HIV/AIDS. "Hour after hour, my government fought for its own selfish interests rather than for the lives of millions dying needlessly around the globe"

There has however been a strong recognition in the declaration of the alarming feminization of the pandemic. Commitments were made to ensure that women can exercise their right to have control over their sexuality and to the goal of achieving universal access to reproductive health by 2015.

This progress was undermined however by regressive governments. "Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan and Gabon blocked efforts to recognize and act to empower girls to protect themselves from HIV infection" said Pinar Ilkkaracan, President of Women for Women's Human Rights. "Their failure to commit to ensuring access to comprehensive sexuality education for young people, and promote and protect sexual rights will undermine the response to the HIV pandemic."

This was compounded by the declaration failing to acknowledge that some of the today's fastest growing HIV epidemics are happening among injecting and other drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men, despite strong support from the Rio Group of countries. For example, governments have ignored the needs of injecting drug users by not stating the need for substitution drug treatment, putting them at further risk. "Failing to fully address the needs of these groups, and particularly to counter stigma and discrimination by decriminalizing drug use and sexual behaviors, will render them more invisible and ultimately lead to even higher rates of HIV/AIDS" said Raminta Stuikyte of the Central and Eastern European Harm Reduction Network.

Again the US, along with other governments, ensured that the final declaration text contains a substantially weaker reference to the AIDS funding need. It now only acknowledges that more money is needed, rather than committing to raising the needed funds. An estimated $23 billion is needed per annum by 2010 in order to fund AIDS treatment, care, prevention and health infrastructure. "At this stage in the pandemic, we expected government commitment to close the global funding gap," said Kieran Daly of the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations. "Instead they have tried to let themselves off the hook."

While there has been a failure of governments to face the realities of HIV/AIDS, civil society will be holding them to account. Civil society will hold governments to account to deliver on universal access. Civil society will make sure governments recognize and support vulnerable populations. The failure of governments to commit will not be accepted.

Editors Note:

"Vulnerable populations" includes women and girls, youth, older people, men who have sex with men, injecting and other drug users, sex workers, transgenders, people living in poverty, prisoners, migrant laborers, orphans, people in conflict and post-conflict situations, indigenous peoples, refugees and internally displaced persons, as well as HIV/AIDS outreach workers and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Supporting organizations:

AAHUNG; ACT UP NY; Action Aid International; Advocates for Youth; AfriCASO; African Committee Services; AIDS Access Foundation; Aids Fonds; AIDS Foundation East-West; AIDS Law Project; AIDS Task Force, Africa Japan Forum; Asia Pacific Council of AIDS Service Organizations (APCASO); Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO); Blue Diamond Society; CALCSICOVA (Cordinadora de Asociacia Ves de Lucha Contra el SIDA de la Cournida Valenciana); Catolicas por el Derecho a Decidir (Brasil); Center for AIDS Rights,; Thailand Center for Health and Gender Equity; Central and Eastern European Harm Reduction Network (CEEHRN); CESIDA - Coodinadora Espanalu en Sida Colectivo Juvenil Decide/ Bolivia; European AIDS Treatment Group; GAT-Grupo Portugues de Activistas Sobre Tratamentos de VIH/SIDA; Gender AIDS Forum; Global AIDS Alliance; Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS Eastern Africa Region; Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (GNP+); Health & Development Networks; Health GAP (Global Access Project); HelpAge International; HIV Association Netherlands; Housing Works, Inc; ICW; Latina International Council of AIDS Service Organisations; International HIV/AIDS Alliance; International Women's AIDS Caucus & FEIM International Working Group in Social Policies and Sexuality; International Parenthood Planning Federation (IPPF); Journalists Against AIDS (JAAIDS/Nigeria); Namibia Network of AIDS Service Organizsations (NANASO); National AIDS Trust (UK); National Association of PLWHA in Namibia (Lironga Eparu); National Empowerment Network of PLWHA in Kenya; Nepal HIV/AIDS Alliance; New Ways; NNIWA; OSISA; Positive Action Movement, Nigeria Positive Women's Network; Red Latinoamericana y Caribena de Jevenes pro la Derecliora Sexuales y Reproduction (REDLAC); Red Tra Sex; RED2002 (Spain); RSMALC; Rutgers Nisso Group, The Netherlands; Sensoa V2W; SEICUS; Share - Net; Stop Aids Liberia; Student Global AIDS Campaign; Tenemos Sida (Spain); Treatment Action Group (TAG); Treatment Action Movement, Nigeria; UK Coalition of People Living with HIV and Aids; Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office; United Nations Association in Canada; VSO Women for Women's Human Rights (WWHR); World AIDS Campaign; World Population Foundation, Netherlands;

UNGASS Draft Declaration Far Short of Civil Society Expectations

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

June 2, 2006 New York

The UN declaration reviewing global progress on HIV/AIDS released on Friday has failed to win the endorsement of civil society groups, disappointed by the lack of ambition in the text.

Late on Thursday, AIDS activists were still trying to enlist the help of sympathetic country delegations to strengthen language in the draft document on targets, affirmation of the rights of women and girls, "harm reduction" measures for injecting drug users, and recognition of the needs of other vulnerable groups such as sex workers, prisoners and migrants.

In a statement, a coalition of AIDS activists representing more than 100 organisations said a draft of the political declaration "fell far short of expectations at a time when 8,000 people a day die of AIDS globally".

The declaration negotiated at the UN High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS was always going to be a compromise between conservative governments and those demanding a bolder response to halt the epidemic, including reaching out to marginalised groups.

During three days of meetings in New York, NGOs urged governments to make a commitment that would mark a real and measurable step forward from the agreement reached at the 2001 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on HIV/AIDS.

The UNGASS document was anchored to a list of goals, which most governments failed woefully to achieve. But no clearly defined targets or timeframes have been included in the high-level report, negotiated between regional delegations and two UN General Assembly co-chairs, who, activists pointed out, had no specific experience in HIV/AIDS.

Although the declaration recognises that US$20 billion to $23 billion a year will be needed by 2010 to support "rapidly scaled-up AIDS responses" in developing countries, it aims to only "come as close as possible" to universal access to prevention, treatment and care.

"That is an escape clause to achieving universal access by 2010," said Sisonke Msimang, HIV/AIDS programme manager for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.

But Michel Sidibe, director of the Department of Country and Regional Support at UNAIDS, was more upbeat over the opportunity presented by the conference. "The world wants by 2010 to be as close as possible to universal access. It's a huge task, but not a dream - it requires better coordination of funding, provision of services and a well-costed, evidence-based planning system."

Five years on from UNGASS 2001, he regarded the "strong voice of civil society" at the conference as a "breakthrough" in achieving critical partnerships at national level, while universal access marked an opportunity to "move from crisis management to a more strategic response", which countries now owned and could be held accountable for.

Particularly galling to African NGOs was that their governments, negotiating in New York under the leadership of Gabon, chose to ignore a pre-agreed common position that included targets. In preparation for the UN meeting, The African Union (AU) had drawn up a comprehensive programme with a number of goals in Abuja, Nigeria, including a commitment to reach 80 percent of people needing treatment by 2010.

Apart from Nigeria, no other African country challenged Gabon's interpretation of the common position.

"I think the [draft] declaration is very weak, and the most disappointing thing is the lack of targets. Our African governments have let us down, and [the irony is that] it is our continent which is the worst affected," said Emma Tuahepa, coordinator of Namibia's National Association of People Living with AIDS.

Msimang agreed: "It undermines the AU and the work that has been done [in achieving a common position], and countries might see this as an opportunity to backtrack [on the commitments made at Abuja]."

Outraged AIDS Protesters Evicted From UN Headquarters, New York

June 1st, 2006

For more information contact Sisonke Msimang on +27 83 450 7382 Or Asia Russell +1 267 475 2645

In the final hours of negotiations of the UN High-Level meeting on HIV/AIDS in New York this week, more than 100 civil society organizations worldwide staged an unprecedented protest shouting "The Declaration must include: treatment, targets, women and girls, harm reduction vulnerable groups". As they were herded out from the hall by security guards they chanted "Silence is Death".

They were rejecting a draft political declaration that fell far short of expectations at a time when 8000 people a day die of AIDS globally.

Governments failed to make commitments in five areas critical to ending the global AIDS epidemic.

According to the civil society coalition monitoring the UN drafting process the following concrete pledges are missing from the draft Declaration:

  • targets for universal access to prevention, treatment, and care, such as ensuring access to treatment for 80% of all people living with HIV worldwide by 2010;
  • comprehensive prevention strategies for all vulnerable populations;
  • substitution therapy for intravenous drug users, and
  • women's reproductive and sexual health and rights.

The document further fails to identify highly vulnerable and marginalized groups, such as sex workers, injecting drug users, prisoners, migrants, and people in conflict situations.

"We came here because in the last five years many new issues have emerged that were not anticipated when the 2001 Declaration of Commitment was signed. This new draft declaration is simply not bold enough. It does not address the changing realities of the AIDS epidemic," said one of the protesters. "Today, for example, we can afford to treat people with antiretroviral therapy - which we couldn't do five years ago because drug prices were still so high. But in the room right now, governments have refused to set a target for treatment because they are afraid that this will be used to hold them accountable."

Since 2001 the AIDS epidemic has shifted. In Eastern Europe, for example, there is an explosion of new infections among intravenous drug users, who need immediate access to clean needles and substitution therapy to avoid infection. In sub-Saharan Africa, there has been a feminization of the epidemic. Women now make up the majority of those infected.

Yet commitments to providing substitution therapy and to promoting women's rights were rejected by conservative governments.

Many of the goals left out of today's draft declaration would have represented a significant advancement to the 2001 Declaration of Commitment. According to another protester, "We demand a political commitment from governments that moves our struggle against AIDS forward rather than back."

African Negotiators lobby in bad faith at UN meeting

Press Release

June 1, 2006

Omololu Falobi (
Journalists Against AIDS (JAAIDS) Nigeria

Three weeks after the African Union - the highest decision-making regional authority in Africa - endorsed a Common Position on HIV and AIDS, African delegates in New York are reneging on the strong commitments they made to providing access to services for HIV prevention, care and treatment to all those who need them in Africa. At the Abuja Heads of States Summit held from May 2 - 4, African states committed to:

  • Reaching at least 80% of pregnant women with access to prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT);
  • Ensuring that 80% of orphans and vulnerable children have access to basic services by 2010;
  • Ensuring that at least 80% of those in need, especially women and children, have access to HIV/AIDS treatment, including antiretroviral therapy as well as care and support;
  • Ensuring that at least 80% of target populations have access to voluntary testing and counselling services
  • Reaching at least 80% of target populations with access to condoms and the skills to use them for HIV prevention.

Although African Heads of States endorsed a strong declaration with clear targets and timeframes for fighting AIDS in Africa, bureaucrats and officials at a UN review are refusing to acknowledge these commitments.

In a surprising turn of events, and a remarkable display of bad faith, negotiators from Gabon, Egypt and South Africa have refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the African Common Position, and have aligned themselves with the United States, the EU and Japan in rejecting the inclusion of targets in the UNGASS Political Declaration.

African negotiators have resisted the inclusion of specific measures to protect and promote the human rights of vulnerable groups, including sex workers, men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, adolescents and women. This refusal to acknowledge the people most affected by the global epidemic again flies in the face of the Common Position, which clearly specifies the need to support these and other groups in programmes designed to prevent and treat HIV and AIDS. The positions of the countries listed above are particularly puzzling in light of the evidence regarding the impact of HIV and AIDS: 77% of young people living with HIV and AIDS are young women.

Nigeria is the only African country that has openly spoken out against the undermining of the African Common Position. Not a single other African state has followed suit, despite repeated information notes from the African Union secretariat, informing New York-based African negotiators about the existence and importance of the Common Position.

Instead, silence and apathy have mired the African bloc, and rendered the bloc of over fifty AU member states virtually silent for the duration of the negotiations.

We call on countries such as Namibia and Kenya, which have indicated to civil society that they do not agree with the position articulated by the African negotiators to do so openly. We call on all African countries to honour the commitments made at Abuja three weeks ago and to stop the bad faith negotiations being undertaken in their name.

Issued by the African Civil Society Coalition on AIDS

For more information contact:
Omolulu Falobi
+1 646 578 6757

Sisonke Msimang
+27 83 450 7382

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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