Tuesday, November 29, 2011

World AIDS Day message from UNAIDS Papua New Guinea Representative Stuart Watson

 In June 2011, 192 Member States of the United Nations agreed to bold new targets and commitments that could make AIDS a thing of the past. 
They agreed amongst other things to work towards reducing sexual transmission of HIV by 50%; to eliminating new HIV infections amongst children; to increasing the number of people on life saving treatment to 15 million globally; and to increasing domestic funding for HIV responses.
The leaders of the world pledged to achieve these goals by 2015, which would move us closer towards the vision of a world with Zero new HIV infections, Zero AIDS-related discrimination, and Zero AIDS-related deaths.
But “Getting To Zero” in Papua New Guinea demands we have an evidence-based response that solidly focuses on and involves key populations most at risk, a response which is adequately resourced, and which is grounded in human rights. 
The countries which are acting on this knowledge – the knowledge of what works – are reaping the rewards.  Tremendous progress has already been made, proving that the epidemic can be reversed, and that HIV treatment and care can be brought to those who most need it. 
Infection rates have dropped in most countries in the Asia Pacific region including PNG and increasing HIV prevention coverage is resulting in safer sexual behaviours.   
There are more people than ever before receiving treatment and this is significant because of the recent evidence that shows the powerful effect of HIV treatment on reducing transmission.
These life-saving gains must be consolidated, expanded and sustained.  
 But critical challenges remain.
There are still insufficient and inadequate HIV programmes for key populations most at risk of HIV including men who have sex with men, people who buy and sell sex, transgendered individuals, young people at higher risk,  migrant workers, and people affected by natural and man-made emergencies.
Sixty percent of people eligible for antiretroviral treatment in the region still do not receive it and PNG continues to have frequent stock outs of crucial life-saving drugs because of poor management and systems which aren’t working. 
Coverage of services to prevent new infections amongst children have significantly improved in PNG, but still need to be expanded, supported and maintained.
Stigma and discrimination are widespread and present a forbidding barrier to many people receiving prevention related information and resources, care, treatment and support.   
We still have laws and policies on the books in PNG and in most countries in the region which hamper the AIDS response and compromise the human rights of key affected communities despite the lofty promises of PNG’s constitution.
And our leaders remain on the margins of the national response. 
  Papua New Guinea was one of the only countries in the Asia Pacific region which did not even send a delegation to the High Level Meeting on HIV at the United Nations General Assembly earlier this year.
And all of this is happening in the context of a global economic crisis where donor funding for AIDS is declining and national funding and commitment remains ambivalent.
As we commemorate World AIDS Day 2011 on December 1, we must recognise that we are at a crossroads in the national and global AIDS response. 
Success will require committed political leadership, strong national ownership, and partnerships that include people living with HIV and the other most affected populations. 
Success will require increased and sustained resources for HIV focused on the people and which reach the people most at risk including men who have sex with men, transgendered individuals, and people who buy and sell sex. 
And this can’t be done by hiding behind our idealised concepts of family, faith, community and morality – it can ONLY be done within the context of the reality of human behavior by taking the hard decisions to reform laws that impede the HIV response and which deny some individuals their right to access health services, treatment, and crucial prevention information and services.
Success means expanding access to affordable drugs, diagnostics, and prevention commodities such as male and female condoms because the many years of the global AIDS response have clearly shown that where these are emphasised in open, honest and dignified ways, the epidemic is slowed.
Success means making better links with and strengthening the rest of the health system to ensure drugs reach people, that treatment once begun is continued without interruption, and to be sure that we do a better job of linking TB and other components of the health system with the HIV response.
And most importantly, success means an end to the laws, policies and practices that fuel stigma and discrimination, violate rights, and hinder effective AIDS responses.
So if we are going to “Get to Zero”, we need renewed activism, we need more meaningful engagement with young people, we need new and more strategic partnerships beyond the traditional responders, we need to ensure respect of everyone’s rights through reform of the legal environment, and we need people from all walks of life to get engaged in the national response to HIV by educating themselves and those around them and learning their own HIV status so that those in need can access life saving treatment and care and reduce the possibility of transmitting the virus to others.
On World AIDS Day 2011, I call on everyone in PNG to courageously face up to the challenges presented by HIV and to embrace wholeheartedly the opportunities we all have to break the trajectory of the epidemic. 
  In pursuit of social justice and human dignity, let us unite our efforts, let us make the difficult decisions, and let us be guided by the evidence we have to ensure success in Getting to Zero new HIV infections, Zero HIV-related Discrimination, and Zero AIDS-related Deaths in PNG.

Additional information and World AIDS Day resources can be found at

or by contacting
UNAIDS Papua New Guinea on 3217999

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