World AIDS Day

Getting to ZERO

Zero new infections
Zero AIDS-related deaths
Zero stigma and discrimination

In 2000, the global community took an historic step in the United Nations Millennium Declaration by acknowledging the importance of an effective response to HIV/ AIDS and by placing it in the context of the broader development agenda. Among the many health targets that were then established in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), MDG 6 calls for unprecedented action to halt and begin to reverse the AIDS epidemic. As the United Nations Member States implicitly recognized when they endorsed the Millennium Declaration, the persistent burden associated with communicable diseases undermines efforts to reduce poverty, prevent hunger and preserve human potential in the world’s most resource-limited settings.

We are now less than two years from the deadline for the MDGs. Over the years, the gloom and disappointments chronicled in the early editions of the UNAIDS Global report on the AIDS epidemic have given way to more promising tidings, including historic declines in AIDS-related deaths and new HIV infections and the mobilisation of unprecedented financing for HIV-related activities in low- and middle-income countries. Yet AIDS remains an unfinished MDG, underscoring the need for continued and strengthened international solidarity and determination to address this most serious of contemporary health challenges.

When the Millennium Development Goals were established at the dawn of this century, a lack of critical HIV treatment and prevention tools often hindered efforts to respond effectively to the epidemic. As this latest Global report makes clear, today we have the tools we need to lay the groundwork to end the AIDS epidemic.

This report highlights continued progress towards the global vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. The annual number of new HIV infections continues to decline, with especially sharp reductions in the number of children newly infected with HIV. More people than ever are now receiving life-saving antiretroviral therapy, contributing to steady declines in the number of AIDS-related deaths and further buttressing efforts to prevent new infections.

These achievements reflect the synergistic efforts of diverse stakeholders – the leadership and commitment of national governments, the solidarity of the international community, innovation by programme implementers, the historic advances achieved by the scientific research community and the passionate engagement of civil society, most notably people living with HIV themselves. As a result of working together, many countries are now within reach of achieving several of the key targets outlined in the 2011 UN Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, and they are thus making clear progress towards MDG 6.

 

However, this report also includes notes of caution, as well as signs of stagnating progress towards other targets and elimination commitments in the 2011 UN Political Declaration. In several countries that have experienced significant declines in new HIV infections, disturbing signs have emerged of increases in sexual risk behaviours among young people. Stigma and discrimination remain rife in many parts of the world, and punitive laws continue to deter those most at risk from seeking essential HIV services.

Although total financial resources for HIV programmes in low- and middle-income countries rose modestly in 2012, our ability to lay the foundation for an end to the AIDS epidemic continues to be undermined by a major resource gap.

These challenges are real, and they must be taken seriously if countries are to achieve their AIDS targets. However, the enormous progress that this report describes highlights the undeniable fact that the AIDS response has encountered – andovercome – such challenges in the past.

As this report emerged, just over two years remain before we reach the deadline for targets and commitments made in the 2011 UN Political Declaration. It is my hope that countries will use the results summarised in this report – both the evidence of all that has been achieved, as well as proof of where countries are falling short – to redouble their determination to keep the commitments they have made. In addition to doing more, we also need to do better, improving the strategic focus of our work and enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of our efforts.

In endorsing the 2011 UN Political Declaration, United Nations Member States aimed to outline a series of targets and elimination commitments that were ambitious and visionary. However, these targets remain achievable – if we recognize our shared responsibility for the AIDS response and put into practice the many lessons we have learned.