UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the world’s nations Thursday to ensure equal access to HIV services to those most at risk of getting AIDS — the LGBTQ community, drug users, sex workers, racial and ethnic minorities and women and girls.
He warned in pre-recorded video remarks on the final day of a three-day high-level meeting on AIDS at the U.N. General Assembly that the goal of ending AIDS cannot be reached “if we deny people’s sexual and reproductive rights, or foster discrimination against the very people who are the most vulnerable to HIV.”
While remarkable progress has been made since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported the first cases of what later became known as AIDS 40 years ago this week, Blinken said that “enduring inequities” across and within countries and communities stand in the way of ending the epidemic.
Over the last 40 years, he said, an estimated 32.7 million people have lost their lives to AIDS globally, including 700,000 people in the United States. Today, more than 38 million people are living with HIV including 1.2 million in the U.S., he said.
Blinken warned that If the world’s nations fail to close the social, economic, racial and gender gaps, which have all been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, then “millions more people will acquire HIV, and millions more people now living with HIV will die.”
“Today, we look to our fellow member states to work with the United States toward ensuring all people have equal access to quality HIV services, regardless of who they are or who they love,” Blinken said.
The General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a declaration Tuesday calling for urgent action to end AIDS by 2030. It noted “with alarm” that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities and pushed access to AIDS medicines, treatments and diagnosis further off track.
The declaration commits the assembly’s 193 member nations to implement the 18-page document, including reducing annual new HIV infections to under 370,000 and annual AIDS-related deaths to under 250,000 by 2025. It also calls for progress toward eliminating all forms of HIV-related stigma and discrimination and for urgent work toward an HIV vaccine and a cure for AIDS.
While the declaration focuses on tackling inequalities, it never mentions the LGBTQ community.
It does reaffirm “the right of every human being, without distinction of any kind, to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”
The declaration also affirms “that the availability, accessibility, acceptability, affordability and quality of HIV combination prevention, testing, treatment, care and support, health and social services, including sexual and reproductive health-care services, information and education, delivered free from stigma and discrimination, are essential elements to achieve the full realization of this right.”
And it commits all countries to reinforcing global, regional and national responses to HIV through stepped-up engagement with a broad range of organizations and initiatives including “people living with, at risk of and affected by HIV.”