IFSW Delegation Part of U.N. AIDS Meeting

NASW national staffers were part of a delegation that represented the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) at the United Nations General Assembly High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS in June.

Hosted at the U.N.’s headquarters in New York City, the meeting attracted high-level participation from U.N. member states along with representatives from hundreds of civil society and U.N. agencies to review the progress toward universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010.

NASW representatives in attendance included Luisa Lopez, acting director of the NASW Division for Practice, Human Rights and International Affairs, and Evelyn Tomaszewski, senior policy associate.

Staffers listened to several panel discussions such as, “How do we build on results achieved and speed up progress toward universal access by 2010?” and “Challenges of providing leadership and political support in countries with concentrated epidemics.”

“This was an important opportunity for NASW representatives to connect with international and domestic colleagues in the U.N. to address HIV/AIDS,” Lopez said. “This will result in the opportunity for us to expand our domestic efforts internationally.”

Representatives from dozens of countries highlighted the significant progress being made in the areas of resource mobilization, increased political commitment and participation of key players in the effort to scale up antiretroviral therapy.

The meeting was also an opportunity to reinforce the commitment by countries, civic societies and organizations to work with the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and other partners to move toward universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and sup-port by 2010.

“History will judge how effectively we rose to the challenge of AIDS,” said H.E. Srgjan Kerim, president of the U.N. General Assembly. “We must not lose the momentum of our global response.”

While positive progress is being made, others areas still need attention, assembly leaders said. Some attendees highlighted the need for greater accountability, particularly in relation to funds spent by all stakeholders, the need to adapt HIV prevention programming to local contexts and the lack of effective programming directed to populations that are especially vulnerable to AIDS. Participants also called for removal of travel restrictions for people living with HIV.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Kimoon presented the report on progress in implementing the 2001 Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS and the 2006 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS. “Our challenge now is to build on what we have started, bridge the gaps we know exist and step up our efforts in years to come,” Kimoon said.

“We can do this only if we sustain and step up our levels of commitment and financing,” he said.

The role of UNAIDS was recognized by countries as a critical element. Several representatives from different countries emphasized the need for the U.N. system to ensure that national efforts are coordinated and complementary in order for the goals to be reached.

Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, said the meeting turned out well. “The commitment shown here by countries highlights the collective consensus that there is still much to do,” he said, according to a U.N press release. “We must capitalize on the commitment to urgently scale up services. UNAIDS will continue to support countries in maintaining an exceptional, long-term response to the epidemic.”

Many attendees specifically noted the recent dramatic increases in the number of people on treatment but noted that if HIV prevention efforts are not stepped up, these successes will be difficult to maintain.

“We cannot treat our way out of this epidemic,” Pinot said.

“For every two people put on treatment, five are newly infected with HIV. Unless we act now, treatment queues will get longer and longer and it will become more and more difficult to get anywhere near universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support,” he said.

In another development, in late July President Bush signed into law H.R. 5501, which will enhance the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, authorizing up to $48 billion to combat global HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.