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IAS CALLS FOR WHO MEMBER STATES TO LIVE UP TO COMMITMENTS, INCLUDING FUNDING FOR EVIDENCE- AND RIGHTS-BASED RESPONSE TO AIDS

18 May 2009 (Geneva, Switzerland) - As officials from around the world gather for the 2009 World Health Assembly (WHA), the International AIDS Society (IAS) called upon political leaders to take decisive action to meet the health needs of the world's citizens at a critical point in the global response to HIV. The 62nd WHA will convene in Geneva from 18 to 27 May 2009.

"Major achievements in the global response to HIV are endangered by the current economic crisis as some nations move to reduce their domestic and international financial commitments to public health," said Dr. Julio Montaner, IAS President and Director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS in Vancouver, Canada. "With the UN target of universal access to HIV prevention and treatment by 2010 on the horizon, and the 2015 deadline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals not far behind, we cannot afford a momentary pause or, worse yet, a retrenchment of finances. These investments, coupled with commitment to enact evidence- and rights-based national policies, will prevent new infections and save lives."

Enormous progress has been made in the past five years since the dramatic scale up of resources to address the global AIDS pandemic. The number of people receiving antiretroviral therapy in low- and middle-income countries jumped from 400,000 at the end of 2003 to over three million by the end 2007, and the resulting reductions in morbidity and mortality are already evident at a population level. This is also leading to decreasing rates of new HIV infections. In addition, the groundswell of support at all levels of society for rolling back the AIDS epidemic has galvanized efforts to address other major infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and malaria, and to strengthen child and maternal health, sexual and reproductive health and primary care. And as recent episodes of H1N1 and H5N1 influenza and SARS have shown, the response to infectious diseases is a fundamental driver of functioning health systems.

"Global health is now firmly recognized by the world's experts as a prerequisite for global development. As the world faces the challenge of the current economic crisis, we must increase our investments in health to ensure strong human and economic stability in the twenty-first century," said Dr. Montaner. "There should be no disagreement on the urgency with which these investments must be made."

Craig McClure, Executive Director of the IAS noted with optimism that halting and reversing the spread of HIV is within our grasp: "With continued expansion of early HIV testing and treatment, combined with the arsenal of other proven prevention interventions at our disposal, we could roll back this epidemic within a few short years." This arsenal includes: prevention of mother-to-child transmission; male and female condoms; male circumcision; anti-HIV stigma campaigns; and harm reduction strategies, including needle and syringe exchange and methadone therapy for people who inject drugs; as well as counselling, education and treatment of co-infections.

The IAS urged WHO member states to push harder for implementing these scientifically-proven technologies alongside protection of human rights, noting that, too often, ideology trumps evidence. "We need to usher in a new global era of respect for scientific evidence coupled with respect for human rights to keep people alive," added Mr. McClure.

The IAS also acknowledged that the United States Government continues to be the leader in providing financial resources to fight HIV worldwide, through research programmes at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The IAS commends President Obama's recent stimulus of $10.4 billion to boost NIH research capacity, and the announcement of a new US global health initiative, but cautioned that the resources proposed for implementing AIDS, malaria and TB programmes fall short of what is required.

"We urge President Obama to live up to his election promises of $2.7 billion per year for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, $6.5 billion for PEPFAR, and a doubling of overall US foreign assistance for global health and education," said Dr. Montaner. "Furthermore, we urge all high-income donor countries to meet their commitments to HIV and global health now, and for all countries to urgently prioritize the health of their people in their national budgets. In the history books, we will all be held accountable for our commitments."

About the IAS
The IAS is the world's leading independent association of HIV professionals, with over 13,000 members in 188 countries working at all levels of the global response to HIV/AIDS. IAS members represent scientists, clinicians, public health, policy experts and community practitioners on the frontlines of the epidemic. The IAS is the lead organizer of the biennial International AIDS Conference and the IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention.

Ends


For more information:

Karen Bennett (Senior Manager, Communications)
International AIDS Society
Geneva, Switzerland
Tel: +41 22 710 0832
Email: media@iasociety.org


"Reproduced with permission - International AIDS Society"

International AIDS Society
www.iasociety.org



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