Asia-Pacific High-Level Intergovernmental Meeting on the Assessment of Progress against Commitements in the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS and the MDGs

Your Excellency, Mr. Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, President of Fiji,

Your Excellency, Mr. Kittiratt Na-Ranong, Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand,
Distinguished Ministers and delegates,

Representatives of civil society and members of key affected populations,

Colleagues from the United Nations system,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of ESCAP and the seven United Nations co-sponsors of this Meeting, it is my privilege and pleasure to welcome you to the United Nations regional headquarters for the Asia-Pacific region.

Today is a historic moment for all of us.

We are here at the first major intergovernmental meeting to take place in the world after the historic adoption by world leaders of the Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS in June last year.

This Meeting is occurring at a time of global transformation, whereby the leadership of the Asia-Pacific region is emerging as a powerful force.

The presence of a Head of State, His Excellency the President of Fiji, at this Meeting signifies the highest level of political commitment and leadership shown by him to the HIV response.

The Meeting brings together, for the first time, a unique mix of regional leaders, champions, policymakers and practitioners from diverse sectors, including justice, law enforcement, drug control, health and social protection, to promote regional cooperation to achieve universal access, and address all forms of discrimination against people living with, and affected by, HIV.

Therefore, the opportunity that this Meeting provides to transform the HIV regional response and move us closer to the global vision of ‘Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination and Zero HIV-related deaths’ is unprecedented.

This Meeting is being held at a critical juncture - Asia-Pacific is at a crossroads.

The region has seen impressive gains, including a 20 per cent reduction in new HIV infections since 2001.

At a regional aggregate level, Millennium Development Goal 6, Target 6A, namely, “Beginning to halt and reverse the spread of HIV and AIDS” is expected to be met by 2015.

We have made significant strides in reducing HIV transmission from mother to child. Wider access to services has led to an overall 15 per cent decrease in new infections among children in the region since 2006.

Countries such as Cambodia, India, Myanmar and Thailand have successfully reduced their HIV infection rates with intensive, wide-reaching prevention programmes, particularly among people who buy and sell sex.

The region has used existing flexibilities under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS), while also recognizing the significance of intellectual property rights in contributing to a more comprehensive HIV response.

As a result of this and other actions, the Asia-Pacific region has been instrumental in manufacturing and ensuring the availability of high quality, affordable generic drugs which have delivered life-saving treatment for millions of people living with HIV regionally and globally.

Hence, more people than ever before have access to HIV services across the Asia-Pacific region.

Despite these gains they remain uneven and fragile.

In the region, the epidemic will outpace the response – there are still almost two new infections for every person who starts treatment.

These new infections remain concentrated among key populations at higher risk – people who buy and sell sex, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, and transgender people. And a significant proportion of these new infections are unfortunately among young people under the age of 25.

Of the 6 million people living with HIV in Asia-Pacific, more than 2 million are women who have been infected by their intimate partners.

Despite efforts to scale-up prevention and treatment in the past decade, most countries are still a long way from achieving universal access targets for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. Particularly significant are the gaps in access to services by populations at higher risk.

Expenditures on HIV in the region remain insufficient.

International funding is declining. This must be reversed.

At the same time, we in Asia-Pacific have the resources to help ourselves and each other. Countries such as China, Malaysia, Pakistan, Samoa and Thailand have succeeded in funding the bulk of their responses from domestic resources – others need to do likewise.

90 per cent of countries in the region still have not acted on barriers to the HIV response.

As part of regional efforts to address these barriers, ESCAP member States adopted in 2010 a landmark resolution, namely 66/10, that calls upon governments to “ground universal access in human rights and undertake measures to address stigma and discrimination, as well as policy and legal barriers to effective HIV responses, in particular with regard to key affected populations. “

A year later, in 2011, our member States further reinforced this by adopting another ground breaking resolution, namely 67/9, which calls for “a review of national laws, policies and practices to enable the full achievement of universal access targets with a view to eliminating all forms of discrimination against people at risk of infection or living with HIV, in particular key affected populations.”

I am heartened that a number of countries in our region have already taken concrete steps to remove such laws and policies – ones that compromise the rights of people living with HIV, women, and members of vulnerable groups such as sex workers, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, and transgender people.

Against this background, the present Meeting is being held, as a further expression of the commitment of ESCAP member States, to share experiences, learn from each other, and accelerate the regional implementation of the internationally agreed commitment to achieve universal access and eliminate stigma and discrimination.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Countries in the Asia-Pacific region have the capacity to lead the world to ‘Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination and Zero AIDS-related deaths’.

We have a responsibility to deliver on the promises and bold targets made by our leaders at last year’s General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS.

We need to ensure that these commitments are implemented in every country, every community reach every person in need.

Bold political leadership, multi-sectoral cooperation, country ownership and broad partnerships, particularly with key affected communities, are critical.

• We need more and better focused programmes.

• We need urgent legal and policy reforms

• And we need more sustained funding from within the region.

By intensifying efforts where they are most needed, we can put an end to HIV/AIDS once and for all.

It is up to us to seize this historic moment.

I thank you.