Thoughts from the UN High-level meeting on AIDS

Laura Ochoa — June 27, 2011 – 2:45 pm

Blog contributed by David Bryden of the Stop TB Partnership

I was privileged to attend last week’s UN meeting on HIV/AIDS on behalf of the Stop TB Partnership. The highlight for me was seeing a diverse array of international civil society groups working to persuade negotiators from countries all over the world to take on bold commitments that would actually defeat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Despite some setbacks, there were some important victories thanks to this coordinated pressure! Online coverage of the UN meeting by Democracy Now gives a great sense of the momentum that was created, here’s an interview with ACTION TB-HIV champion Lucy Chesire.

UN member states agreed to scale up access to antiretroviral treatment to 15 million people by 2015.  Reaching that target will do a lot to save lives, including helping to prevent active TB. In fact, the promised funding provides a portion specifically for TB treatment.  The declaration also includes a commitment to reduce TB deaths by 50 percent by 2015, and to “improve TB screening, TB prevention, access to diagnosis, and treatment of TB and drug-resistant TB.”

Reaching this great achievement took a lot of hard work on many different fronts. In the weeks leading up to the meeting, civil society groups engaged in a sophisticated lobbying campaign directed at country missions.  These groups, including ACTION’s dynamic partner in France, AIDES, provided a detailed critique of drafts of the final declaration.  Groups from Africa, including Treatment Action Campaign (South Africa), met with high level officials of numerous African countries.  We presented a list of “non-negotiables” to the country missions, including strong provisions on human rights, tuberculosis, resources, HIV prevention, and many other issues.  Countries in Latin America played a key role in pushing the document in a progressive direction.

Another highlight was hearing the bold voices for TB-HIV services at events during the week.  UNAIDS presented a terrific video on TB-HIV in Brazil and Kenya, and then President Sampaio gave an impassioned speech for action on TB-HIV.

We also heard a powerful denunciation by Alexei Kurmanoevskii, from the Centre of Studies on Discrimination, Xenophobia and Extremism of Republic of Tatarstan. Alexei spoke about the plight of prisoners, and injecting drug users who lack reliable access to appropriate TB and HIV treatment.  Tatayana Afanasiadi, a woman living with HIV/AIDS from Ukraine, returned to this theme when she spoke before the entire General Assembly of the UN.

One of the more fascinating side events during the meeting was sponsored by Doctors Without Borders and gave the governments of South Africa and Brazil the opportunity to talk about their leadership on TB-HIV. The chairman of the National Empowerment Network of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya (NEPHAK), Mr. Nelson Otuoma, said “it is high time our governments invested in the latest TB diagnosis technology, such as GeneXpert” – check out the video of the event here.  At other events, faith-based groups talked about their commitment to ramp up action on TB-HIV, and filmmaker Jonathan Smith told us about his exciting film project to expose the crisis of TB in the gold mines in South Africa.

Many voices came together last week, now it is up to people who care all over the world to take this message to decision-makers in governments, especially those who make funding decisions.