June 1, 2011
The larger goal of eliminating AIDS globally is being mired in debate over how to best achieve that target, with governments and advocacy groups currently unable to reach consensus ahead of the UN High Level Meeting in New York, June 8-10.
Tensions center on what actions the UN will commit to, whether patent rights for AIDS drugs will be honored, and how to best approach high-risk groups. The declaration that is expected to be approved at the meeting had more than quadrupled in size as of May 27, according to a source close to the negotiations.
Matters such as how to deal with men who have sex with men have become divisive, for example. AIDS organizations such as the US-based Health GAP are arguing for well-defined programs for gay men. "We need a response to HIV that is tailored to meet the needs of those key populations who are often marginalized and have a hard time accessing services," said Matthew Kavanagh, Health GAP's director of US advocacy.
Others disagree with that view. "Many countries are actually being bullied into accepting many of the wrong approaches to the AIDS pandemic, and they're being encouraged to promote the highest-risk behavior," said Sharon Slater, president of the US-based Family Watch International. "Ours is not an anti-homosexual" position, she added. FWI is offering UN delegates talking points and suggesting wording for amendments, including those from "all of the African countries, I believe," Slater said.
Sharonann Lynch, a Doctors Without Borders HIV/AIDS policy adviser, said the infighting represents a real threat. "Really, there are so many authors and editors they might make it so we miss the opportunity to get ahead of the wave of infections," she noted.