A day before a crucial United Nations meeting that will influence the future of the global AIDS epidemic, activists charged through New York City, holding a marathon "die-in" at several UN missions.
"At such a critical time, it's really important that countries not back down from their funding promises," said Michael Tikili, a 25-year-old New Yorker of Nigerian descent. "If we pull back on funding a lot of people are going to die. And as an HIV-positive youth living in the U.S., I think it's really important to be a voice for those who, right now, don't have one."
Activists marched to the UN missions of some of the world's wealthiest countries -- Germany, Norway, Italy and the United States -- calling on governments to ramp up funding to fight AIDS. In front of several missions, they laid on the cold cement, holding cardboard tombstones that read "Broken AIDS promises kill millions."
"They say 'Cut back.' We say 'Fight back!'" ralliers cried from the ground. They chanted in time with a drum.
While significant progress has been made in fighting AIDS in recent years, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a report last week saying that gains are in jeopardy as program costs rise and AIDS funding remains flat.
Inadequate response to the epidemic, said the report, will "deepen poverty, increase hunger, slow progress on maternal and child health and exacerbate other infectious diseases."
Technological advances have failed to keep pace with the growing need for treatment, and about 10 million people who could benefit from treatment are not receiving it, according to the UN. And the epidemic is gaining strength in new places: The number of people acquiring infection is on the rise in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, and parts of Asia. The goal of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010 -- set in 2006 by UN member states -- has passed, unfulfilled.
Global contributions to fight AIDS have stagnated, sitting at around $16 million since 2007. Activists said even traditionally generous countries need to increase their contributions.
At one point during the rally, Miguel Berger, the German deputy ambassador to the UN, approached activists to discuss the nation's pledge to the Global Fund. Matthew Kavanagh, from the group HealthGAP, asked the ambassador for a promise that Germany would not use mismanagement of funds as a pretext for failing to deliver the nation's promised Global Fund contribution.
Berger stated his desire to meet Germany's promises, but fell short of an unconditional commitment to meet a previous funding pledge. (See video.)
Friday's gathering of UN member states is a precursor to a June UN meeting in which members will track progress toward HIV/AIDS goals set in 2001 and 2006. Members will then adopt a new declaration that sets future goals for prevention and treatment. Activists hope today's call for funds will shape that declaration.
At the rally, participants called on President Obama to fulfill a campaign pledge to provide $50 billion over five years to fight global AIDS. While country representatives at both the Norwegian and German missions met activists to discuss demands, no one appeared outside the U.S. mission.
"It's clear that global funding has not been a priority for this administration," said Kavanagh. "And that has got to change significantly."
The rally was organized by ACT UP, the African Services Committee, Health GAP, the Student Global AIDS Campaign and VOCAL-NY.