Aids advocates on Tuesday accused the US of watering down an international declaration to be debated this week at a special United Nations’ general assembly on Aids by removing treatment targets and references to prevention measures that offend religious groups.
Draft versions of the text seen by the FT step back from setting any specific targets in the years ahead, in contrast to specific numerical objectives laid down in the previous text at the last UN Aids assembly in 2001 that helped trigger a sharp escalation in treatment in the developing world.
The wording also dilutes references to the use of condoms and comprehensive reproductive health work to reflect the priorities of the Bush administration on Aids, shifting language from “evidenced-based” to “evidence-informed” measures despite studies showing the efficacy of such techniques.
“This is a major step backwards,” said Jodi Jacobson, head of Change, a Washington, DC-based charity monitoring the effect of US policy on women’s health. “The US doesn’t want to commit to any targets by which it can be held accountable, and it doesn’t want anyone else to commit either.”
The details emerged on the eve of the UN general assembly on Aids, which opens on Wednesday but has disappointed many advocates because few high-level delegates from among the leading donor nations will be present.
Colin Powell, then US secretary of state, addressed the 2001 assembly, but this time Laura Bush, the First Lady, will speak instead. “She’s been to Africa, but she has no decision-making power,” said David Bryden from the Global Aids Alliance.
The row emerged on the day that UNAIDS, the United Nations’ coordinating body, published a detailed report on the epidemic showing that the growth in infection may be starting to slow, but just one in six of the commitments for low and middle income countries made in 2001 had been achieved.
Annual expenditure on Aids has risen to $8bn, helping increase the number of patients on antiretroviral treatment to 1.3m by the end of last year. But a record 40m people are now living with HIV, and a further 4m new infections, the highest number ever.
Among other objectives, knowledge by young people on how to prevent infection remains very low, and most HIV-positive pregnant women do not receive prophylaxis with the result that 26 per cent of their children born infected.
The 2001 target of providing medicines of half of those who need them by 2005 was met by 21 countries, but progress is lagging in many countries with greatest need including South Africa, Nigeria and India.
A number of non-governmental organisations have complained about the difficulties of gaining visas to travel to the US for the general assembly, and from being barred from negotiations on the declaration in the final few days ahead of the assembly.
© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2006.