Port-of-Spain -- The head of the United Nations AIDS programme has called on decision-makers worldwide to make good on promises in the Paris AIDS Summit declaration to support greater involvement of people living with HIV/AIDS at all levels and in all sectors of the AIDS response.
"During the 1990s, the principle of involving people living with HIV or AIDS was established. In the first decade of this century, we must make good on those promises. But people living with AIDS do not have a decade to wait -- the time for action is now," said Dr Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. He was speaking this afternoon at the opening ceremony of the 10th International Conference for People Living with HIV/AIDS, being held in Trinidad and Tobago from 27-31 October.
Involving people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWAs) in the AIDS response was enshrined in 1994 when 42 countries prevailed upon the Paris AIDS Summit to include the Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV/AIDS Principle (GIPA) in the final declaration. While the GIPA principle was a significant step forward, many AIDS activists felt it did not go far enough.
"The United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS held this past June in New York was a turning point for GIPA in particular," said Salvator Niyonzima, GIPA Adviser for UNAIDS. "The Declaration of Commitment adopted at the Special Session clearly calls for the greater involvement of PLWAs. The time has come for people living with AIDS to move from just giving the epidemic a human face and voice to truly participating in the development and implementation of multisectoral strategies needed to fight AIDS."
The Declaration offers PLWAs a platform for advocacy. It recognizes that the protection of human rights of PLWAs is an essential element in the global response to AIDS. It sets goals for the implementation of comprehensive care strategies for people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. And it calls on governments to develop national strategies to strengthen health-care systems and provide treatment to those living with HIV/AIDS.
"Perhaps the most important single issue of this conference is the issue of stigma and discrimination," said Yolanda Simon, Coordinator of the Caribbean Regional Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (CRN+). "We hope one of the achievements of this conference will be dialogue that will break the conspiracy of silence that continues to surround the AIDS epidemic."
At the press conference, UNAIDS called for closer practical links between prevention of HIV and care of those already infected. While the link between the two is widely accepted, Peter Piot said it is rarely acted upon, except at the local level. In addition to the importance of linking prevention with care, treatment and care themselves are essential elements of the AIDS response, he added.
"This connection, obvious at the local level, disappears higher along the decision-making ladder," said Dr Piot. "The challenge for the global movement of people living with HIV is to translate the truth of local responses into the reality of national and global ones. This will mean treading on toes, making a nuisance of yourselves, and forging new partnerships. But the gains will be worthwhile."
The five-day conference is organized jointly by the Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (GNP+), CRN+, and Community Action Resource, Trinidad (CARe). The conference aims to raise awareness of the needs and rights of PLWAs; develop new partnerships between PLWA communities, governments and business; and strengthen existing PLWA networks.
For more information, please contact Anne Winter, UNAIDS, Geneva, (+41 22) 791 4577; Dominique de Santis, UNAIDS, Geneva, (+41 22) 791 4509; Andrew Shih, UNAIDS, New York, (+1 212) 584 5030 and UNAIDS, Trinidad, (+1 686) 623 7056 ext. 3. You may also visit the UNAIDS Home Page on the Internet for more information about the programme.