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Future of People with HIV/AIDS Must Be ‘Central to Every Decision’ Made by International Community, Secretary-General Tells General Assembly

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s opening remarks to the General Assembly high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS, in New York today:

It is a great pleasure to be here with you today to open this important high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS.

Ten years ago when I took over as Secretary-General, AIDS was still devastating families, communities and nations.  In many low-income countries, treatment was scarce.  In 2007, only 3 million people — one third of those in need — had access to life saving antiretroviral drugs.

We have made enormous progress.  Since 2000, the global total of people receiving antiretroviral treatment doubled every three to four years, thanks to cheaper drugs, increased competition and new funding.  Today, more than 17 million people are being treated, saving millions of lives and billions of dollars.

The world achieved Millennium Development Goal 6.  We have halted and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.  New HIV infections have declined by 35 per cent since 2000.  AIDS-related deaths have gone down by 43 per cent since 2003.

I am particularly happy that new HIV infections among children are down by 56 per cent in the past 15 years.  Four countries have eliminated them completely: Cuba, Thailand, Armenia and Belarus.  I hope we will reach zero new infections among children soon.

None of this could have happened without the leadership of people living with HIV and civil society partners on the ground around the world.  They believed that more equitable treatment and access was possible, and they made sure that we responded.

They broke the silence and shone a light on discrimination, intolerance and stigma.  They brought passion to their fight, and that passion will make the end of AIDS a reality.

Progress and investment in the AIDS response has changed the face of global health.  They have strengthened health systems, social protection and community resilience.

These approaches and mechanisms are a model to meet the many challenges that result in repeated disease outbreaks and new epidemics.  But AIDS is far from over.  Over the next five years, we have a window of opportunity to radically change the trajectory of the epidemic and put an end to AIDS forever.

Despite remarkable progress, if we do not act, there is a danger the epidemic will rebound in low- and middle-income countries.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development affirms the global commitment to ending the epidemic within 15 years.  Action now could avert an estimated 17.6 million new infections and 11 million premature deaths between 2016 and 2030.  But we must make a radical change within the next five years, if we are to achieve that goal.

That requires commitment at every level:  from the global health infrastructure, to all Member States, civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations, to the United Nations Security Council that has dealt with AIDS as a humanitarian issue and a threat to human and national security.

I call on the international community to reinforce and expand the unique, multi-sector, multi-actor approach of UNAIDS, as an integral element of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

This means making sure that we meet the annual target of $26 billion in funding, including $13 billion for the next three years, through the Global Fund’s Fifth Replenishment.

It means continued advocacy to the most vulnerable groups and approaches that promote gender equality and empower women.

It means leaving no one behind and removing punitive laws, policies and practices that violate people’s dignity and human rights.

It means that everyone affected must have access to comprehensive HIV services, without discrimination:  young people, migrants, women and girls, sex workers, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, transgender people and prisoners.

And it means that this meeting must issue a strong political declaration, to galvanize the commitment that will be needed to meet this challenge.

The future of people with HIV/AIDS, many of whom are children and among the most vulnerable, must be central to every decision.

I thank the delegates who have been working to reach consensus on this declaration.

This may be my last address to the United Nations General Assembly on the subject of HIV/AIDS.  This cause has moved and inspired me.

Together, the most marginalized, the people left behind, the extraordinary health and social workers on the ground, UNAIDS, and you, the Member States, have shown great commitment and resolve to end this epidemic once and for all, and leave an AIDS-free world for future generations.

The AIDS response is a source of innovation and inspiration, demonstrating what is possible when science, community activism, political leadership, passion and compassion come together.  I commend everyone involved in this remarkable effort.

I wish you success in your deliberations and in ending the worldwide scourge of HIV/AIDS.

For information media. Not an official record.