Since the first World AIDS Day was marked in 2004, AIDS-related deaths have been reduced by 42% while some 15 million people are currently accessing life-saving treatment. Yet in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, progress in prevention and treatment is stalling. That includes many developing countries being strangled by rising debt levels, stifling their capacity to respond to AIDS. While there have been noticeable decreases in Africa, HIV infections are rising in other regions, including in Asia and the Pacific, the world’s most populous continent. At present, one person dies every minute from AIDS.
Across the world, the United Nations (UN) and our partners are working to address the root causes of these concerning trends and end AIDS by 2030. That includes resourcing community-led responses and supporting countries to remove discriminatory and punitive laws that limit access to HIV services and increase risk and vulnerability. In Paraguay and Panama, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has supported transgender-led organizations to advance new gender identity laws and advocacy. Or look to Pakistan, where UNDP, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the government, community-based organizations, UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO) have launched the Pre-exposure prophylaxis initiative -- a medicine taken to prevent the acquisition of HIV infection by uninfected persons, considered a game-changer in the prevention of HIV. Accelerating progress requires new forms of cooperation. That includes a new partnership between UNDP and the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to counter discriminatory laws that impede key populations’ access to HIV services.
Data shows that protective laws and policies grounded in evidence, equity and human rights contribute to better health outcomes for people living with HIV. For instance, Zimbabwe’s parliament has decriminalized HIV transmission, building on efforts supported by UNDP, key populations and civil society. Or look to Angola and Bhutan where UNDP has worked with the government and civil society to decriminalize adult consensual same-sex relations. In Ukraine, UNDP is supporting the Ministry of Health to ensure that communities living with HIV can access primary healthcare even in times of war.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis, the worsening impacts of the climate emergency as well as a rising number of violent conflicts all threaten hard-won progress made towards ending AIDS. With development assistance for HIV from bilateral donors other than the United States plummeting by 57% over the last decade, new financial resources and debt relief measures are desperately needed as lives and livelihoods hang in balance. The 2022 replenishment of the Global Fund offers hope, but the global HIV response cannot falter. Countries must remain unwavering in their commitment to transformative, equalizing action as part of the 2021 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, and the Global AIDS Strategy 2021-2026. That includes renewed efforts by all countries to finally put an end to criminalisation, discrimination and stigma that is hindering our collective efforts to end AIDS by 2030 as part of the Global Goals. All of us must tackle inequalities wherever and whenever we see them, making dignity and justice, especially for those left furthest behind, a reality. Lives depend on it.
Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
This World AIDS Day, 1 December 2022, UNAIDS is urging each of us to address the inequalities that are holding back progress in ending AIDS.