March 18, 2010
In 2005, world leaders at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland and every UN Member State pledged to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care for all who need it by 2010. Despite important progress in expanding access to lifesaving HIV services since then, the world still remains far short of meeting this central health and development goal. As the 2010 G8 and G20 summits approach, the International AIDS Society (IAS) has launched the global "Universal Access Now" campaign to focus world leaders' attention on the need to fulfill the universal access commitment without delay.
Today, HIV treatment reaches more than 4 million people worldwide, keeping millions of young women and men alive and allowing them to care for their families and contribute to economies. Broad access to HIV treatment also reduces malnutrition, diarrheal diseases and tuberculosis and slows the epidemic, as a person on treatment is much less likely to transmit HIV to someone else. Four million people are just a third of those who need treatment today, however. As the universal access pledge comes due, most people living with HIV remain unaware of their HIV status because they lack access to testing. And fewer than half of pregnant women living with HIV receive treatment to extend their own lives and save their children from infection.
The IAS "Universal Access Now" campaign will include meetings with civil society, governments and G8 health experts to promote fulfillment of the universal access pledge; mobilizing IAS members to urge their national leaders to support increased AIDS financing; promotion of evidence to support HIV treatment and prevention scale up; media and social media outreach in support of universal access; and prominent programming on universal access at the upcoming XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria this July.
Campaign activities will focus on three upcoming events that could determine the scope and strength of AIDS responses for years to come. The first, a 24 March replenishment meeting for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in the Netherlands, will help determine the future effectiveness of this vital funding mechanism, which has saved nearly 5 million lives to date. Also at the top of the campaign calendar are the 2010 summits of the G8 and G20 leaders, to be held in Canada 25-27 June. As those global agenda-setting summits approach, advocates warn that diminishing political and financial commitment to universal access could bring disastrous consequences both for those who need lifesaving HIV services today, and for global efforts to reverse the pandemic over the longer term.
"The promise that G8 nations and every UN Member State made in 2005 set the right course," said IAS President Julio Montaner. "Now, every nation must follow through. This campaign by members and partners of the IAS, the world's largest membership organization of HIV professionals, says it is time to close the gap between rhetoric and action on universal access."
"'Universal Access Now' is not just about rich nations helping poor, but rather about every nation participating fully, as they pledged to do at Gleneagles and then at the United Nations, in global efforts to bring proven prevention and treatment to all who need them," said IAS Executive Director Robin Gorna. "Responsibility for universal access goes far beyond the G8, but the G8 has a special responsibility, and many G8 nations are still not contributing their fair share to ending this epidemic. G20 nations must now assume a leadership role as well, and many countries that are seriously affected by HIV, including those in Southern Africa, must increase their domestic focus and spending on AIDS."
The host nation for the 2010 G8 and G20 meetings has considerable influence over the summits, which in turn can set global heath and development priorities for years to come. This year's G8 and G20 host, the government of Canada, has made little mention of HIV and the universal access pledge, leading to concern that it may be working to reduce the prominence of these issues at this year's summits. Canada is also the only G8 nation that openly opposes a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT), a tiny tax on financial transactions that would raise billions of dollars for global health efforts such as universal access. The FTT is one of many innovative funding mechanisms for health that can only move forward with united support from the G8 and G20.
"The world applauded when the United Nations agreed on the universal access pledge," noted Julio Montaner. "Retreating on that commitment now would be a disastrous error in global health policy. Slowing the highly effective responses to AIDS that are underway today will lead to millions of new HIV infections and deaths, and hobble long-term efforts to turn back the epidemic. Fully funding universal access, on the other hand, can bring global HIV levels down to the point where we could one day have a realistic chance of ending this pandemic."
"Though it is behind schedule, the effort to provide universal access is one of the most successful public health undertakings in history," said Robin Gorna. "Now we must double our efforts to build on recent success in increasing access to HIV treatment and prevention. This campaign will rally thousands of IAS members and partners to tell world leaders that universal access is everyone's commitment and everyone's fight -- and that we will work together to ensure that this promise is kept."
Universal access supporters can visit www.iasociety.org/universalaccessnow.aspx to send a letter to their national officials urging them to act to keep the universal access pledge.