Helen Clark: World AIDS Day

Dec 1, 2012

This World AIDS Day, we have so many reasons to take heart:

At the end of 2011, at least eight million people were receiving life-saving treatment, new HIV infections rates had dropped sharply in many countries, and 81 countries had increased domestic spending for AIDS by more than fifty per cent over the preceding five years.  The global AIDS response has propelled a broader mobilization on global health generally, including an expanded multi-sectoral response to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and depression.  With access to antiretroviral treatment, most people living with HIV can remain healthy and productive, with a near normal life expectancy – and with a far smaller toll on already overstretched health systems.

Many of the development challenges that have confounded the AIDS response nonetheless persist and threaten future progress. Stigma and discrimination bear down daily on people living with HIV/AIDS, leaving many of those most at risk of HIV infection in the shadows, unable to access life-saving prevention and treatment. Over the last two years, UNDP has supported the work of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law to address some of the legal issues thwarting progress on the global AIDS response. The Commission’s work reveals that evidence-based laws and practices, firmly grounded in human rights, do exist, and that these are powerful in challenging stigma, promoting public health, and protecting human rights.

The benefits encompass health and development outcomes broadly. For example, where the law empowers women, their vulnerability to HIV and violence decreases; where the law allows people living with HIV to participate with dignity in daily life, without fear of discrimination or prosecution, they are more likely to seek prevention, care, and support services.  Those who bear a disproportionate HIV burden worldwide include sex workers, people who use drugs, men who have sex with men, and transgender people. They too are far more likely to access HIV services if they live without fear of violence.

With the 2015 target date for reaching the Millennium Development Goals in sight, and with a new global development agenda under discussion, we must sustain the effort that has already accomplished so much for so many. Accelerating action to reduce inequality, promote human rights, and apply lessons learned to health and development more broadly remains vital.

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