secretary-general Kofi Annan on Wednesday challenged the
United States and Islamic nations to involve sex workers,
drug users, and gay men in HIV prevention and
treatment programs. Annan and general assembly
president Jan Eliasson opened a high-level three-day
conference on AIDS that included thousands of
activists, ministers, and diplomats to assess progress
so far. Less than half of those infected with HIV have
received drug treatment.
session of activists, Annan said marginalized people also
are in need of treatment for a disease he called "a
devastating obstacle to the progress of humankind."
The United States, Islamic states, and some Catholic
countries oppose the mention of prostitutes, gay men,
or drug users, referring to them only as "vulnerable
groups" in a final statement that governments are
negotiating. To combat AIDS, "it means we must work
closely and constructively with those who have too
often been marginalized--sex workers, injecting drug
users, and men who have sex with men," Annan said.
secretary-general mentioned no country by name but was asked
if he meant to challenge positions taken by a
coalition of nations that included the United States.
"I think it
should be challenged. We need to be realistic," Annan
told reporters. "If we are here to try and end the epidemic
and fight the epidemic, we will not succeed by putting
our heads in the sand and pretending these people do
not exist or do not need help."
States, Islamic nations, and others argue that prostitution,
drug use, and homosexuality are illegal in many countries
and mentioning these groups might be an endorsement.
Experts say that
in most nations, AIDS began with sex workers, gay men,
and drug addicts who spread HIV through dirty needles. When
HIV was not contained among those groups, it spread to
the general population.
Annan noted it
would be 25 years ago next week that the world had first
heard of AIDS. "Since then, HIV/AIDS has unfolded along a
pattern we tend to see only in nightmares."
Of the more than
38 million people living with HIV, some 2.8 million
people died in 2005, most of them in sub-Saharan African
areas where food supplies are scarce and health
systems are weak. Some 65 million people have
contracted HIV since June 1981, and 25 million have died of
The Joint United
Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, the umbrella group
leading the global campaign, estimates that about $8.3
billion was spent last year in treatment, prevention,
and care of orphans in low- and middle-income
countries, meeting a $7 billion to $10 billion target set
five years ago. The hope is that nations this week commit to
spending $20 billion annually by 2010.
The United States
leads the world in commitments to fight AIDS, having
pledged more money than any other country, $15 billion over
five years, but is expected to be challenged for its
emphasis on abstinence. "We're not against abstinence
programs as long as it's part of the overall picture,"
says Peter Piot, head of UNAIDS. "For a 14-year-old
girl, it is a human right to be abstinent and not to be
married, not to be raped."
opening general assembly session also for the first time
heard from an HIV-positive person on its
podium--Khensani Mavasa, a South African
activist and a representative of the Treatment Action
Campaign. "I ask that as you deliberate over the next
two days you be guided by the pain and hope which sits
in our hearts as people of the world, that you
remember that 14,000 new infections and 8,000 deaths occur
daily," she said. (Reuters)