June 10 (Bloomberg) -- World leaders meeting in New York this week to mark the 30th anniversary of the first reported case of AIDS have agreed to double by 2015 the number of people receiving life-saving drug therapy, to 15 million, and to spend an additional $6 billion a year fighting the disease.
A three-day special session of the United Nations General Assembly, attended by 30 heads of state and ministers from 100 other nations, was to end today with adoption of a declaration saying AIDS “remains an unprecedented human catastrophe” that poses “one of the most formidable challenges to the development, progress and stability of our respective societies.”
Agreement to commit an additional $6 billion a year beyond the $16 billion allocated in 2010 will be used to press the U.S. Congress and governments around the world to maintain their support in the face of budget cuts, according to Dr. Christoph Benn, direct of external relations for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
“‘This declaration will be more than just words,” Benn said in an interview. “We will go out to countries, applaud them for their agreement and ask them for their commitment. While economies have started growing again, the effect of the financial crisis has been tremendous, so maintaining support, particularly in Congress, will be a huge challenge.”
Benn said he would meet next week with the heads of the House and Senate appropriations committees in an effort to ensure approval of the $1.3 billion in 2012 funding for the Global Fund that President Barack Obama has proposed. He plans to make a similar appeal to the European Parliament and to other governments in the coming weeks.
1.8 Million Deaths
While the number of AIDS-related deaths has been reduced by 20 percent in the past five years, the disease still kills 1.8 million each year and 9 million await life-saving treatments of anti-retroviral drugs, according to the UN. More than 34 million people worldwide are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and 30 million have died since 1981.
“The clock starts now,” Sharonann Lynch of New York-based Doctors Without Borders said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in opening remarks to the special session that the goal should be to eliminate AIDS entirely by 2020. “That is our goal: zero new infections, zero stigma and zero AIDS-related deaths,” Ban said.
Benn said that goal wasn’t entirely unrealistic if progress over the past decade is accelerated through increased commitments from the developing nations where most AIDS cases originate, greater efficiency in reaching victims and scientific innovations that could include a vaccine against HIV.
“If we get those elements together over the next 10 years we might well be in a situation where we could control AIDS as a public health problem,” Benn said.
While support for the Global Fund, which has raised $30 billion over the past decade, has remained level during the financial crisis, Benn said the challenge will be to maintain current funding of between $3 billion and $4 billion a year.
The UN declaration says it’s “imperative that the Global Fund’s work be supported and also that it be funded adequately.” It also commits to ending by 2015 all mother-to- child transmission of HIV, which infected 370,000 infants in 2009, and for the first time in a UN document refers to the risk of infection among “men who have sex with men.”
Islamic nations and the Vatican have combined at past AIDS conferences to bar such references to homosexual transmission.
--Editor: Terry Atlas, Ann Hughey.
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