International AIDS conference leaves health activists despairing

Published: 23rd July 2010

World leaders allow continued violation of rights

World leaders made no real commitments to ensure universal access to prevention, treatment and care for AIDS at this week's International AIDS conference in Vienna, said international agency Oxfam.

It was a disappointing conference. The tone was set by the host nation, Austria, when it indicated it would not contribute a single cent toward the replenishment of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria. "This conference gives us little confidence that the $20 billion replenishment of the Fund will be fully achieved in October," said Oxfam delegation head, Jim Clarken. "This is an echo of last month's G8, where leaders admitted that this year they will break their promise to provide universal access."

Donors need not only to increase aid but also to ensure it is spent more effectively, said Oxfam. "Donors need to align their aid to national health plans including HIV, where they exist, and work with countries to develop a plan where they do not – and they need to provide long-term and predictable funding for these plans," said Clarken. "The US Global Health Initiative and the International Health Partnership are promising but they have yet to produce concrete reforms for how aid is delivered."

African governments should increase their health budgets

As the African Union summit got underway in Kampala this week, there were renewed calls for increasing accountability and commitment by African governments. "African governments promised to spend 15% of their national budgets on health, but only a handful have done so. Our leaders need to go beyond making speeches and signing declarations," said Yvonne Chaka Chaka, acclaimed African singer and health activist.

The theme of this year's conference was "rights here, right now" but for millions of people living with HIV, these rights remain elusive. In 38 African countries, homosexuality is still illegal. "Punitive laws hinder access to HIV services and drive the epidemic underground," said Clarken. The rights of women and girls are often violated too, said Chaka Chaka: "Unfortunately we often hide behind our culture or religion. Is raping a woman part of our culture?"

The conference did bring some hope however. Oxfam says that the new UNITAID patent pool holds great promise for people to access affordable new anti-retroviral combinations for HIV treatment.

The female condom needs funding

There was an important breakthrough announced on a new microbicide – a substance that reduces women's risk of being infected with HIV. For now the female condom remains the only effective woman-controlled method for HIV protection and control of sexual and reproductive health. Yet only one female condom per year is available for every 300 women. Urgent funding is needed to increase the range of products on the market and to reduce prices to ensure more women can protect themselves from HIV infection.

"Both donors and African governments need to walk the talk. Broken promises rob African women and children of hope," said Chaka Chaka.

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Both donors and African governments need to walk the talk. Broken promises rob African women and children of hope
Yvonne Chaka Chaka
African singer and health activist

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