HIV/AIDS: Calls for targets to be met

The first special sessions on HIV/AIDS were held in 2001, when UN member states signed a declaration of commitment on HIV/AIDS that recognised the need for concerted action against the pandemic. This was in acknowledgement of the fact that HIV prevention and treatment initiatives were failing to reach many of those most vulnerable to HIV.

UNGASS then convened from May 31 to June 2, 2006, to enable countries to report back on their progress in achieving earlier commitments.

South African AIDS activists went to the 2006 UNGASS meetings in New York with high expectations, hoping the final declaration of the conference would include clear global HIV/AIDS targets according to which nations around the world could be held accountable. The targets were expected to put pressure on governments to set corresponding national goals, central to measuring authorities’ performance in HIV prevention and treatment.

But at the end of the conference, no clear objectives had been set.

Wealthy countries rejected setting targets because they did not want to commit specific amounts of money for poor nations’ HIV/AIDS programmes, while many African governments were reluctant to set exact numbers concerning improved access to treatment.

South African officials at UNGASS promised to set national HIV/AIDS targets by the end of the year, however, a pledge that civil society organisations now want to ensure they keep ‘ claiming government’s current approach to HIV/AIDS is not delivering the goods.

“At the moment, (South Africa) is not managing the pandemic in a comprehensive, co-ordinated way,” said Sipho Mthathi, general secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a Cape Town-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) that has been campaigning for the provision of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) and the reduction of HIV infections, for almost a decade.

“Infection rates are on the increase in South Africa and, therefore, targets are crucial for action planning,” she added.
<BR> Fatima Hassan, a lawyer with a Johannesburg-based NGO, the Aids Law Project, said benchmarks were also needed for ARVs. “We need to know how many people will be treated where, and by when,” she noted, adding that not only “the quantity but also . . . the quality” of services needed attention. Patients receiving ARVs require considerable support with regard to counselling about the possible side effects of their treatment, and related issues.

AIDS activists complain that previous targets set by government for ARVs were too low, and that separate targets for adults and children are necessary to measure the extent of children’s access to the life-saving drugs.

However, government has already had difficulty in meeting these earlier targets. Although its treatment plan aimed to have 381,177 people on state-funded ARVs by the end of 2005, only 85,000 people were receiving treatment by September 2005. No new targets for 2006 and beyond have been set as yet.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS estimates that about 80 percent of South Africans in need of ARVs were not receiving them at the end of 2005.

As a step towards targets, the TAC is joining other civic groups to organise a national civil society conference in October. This meeting will bring NGOs from around the country together in the commercial hub of Johannesburg to write an HIV/AIDS consensus statement that will be handed to government. ‘ IPS.

August 2006
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