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GLOBAL: Funding pall hangs over AIDS 2010 conference

Vienna, 19 July 2010 (IRIN) - A chaotic protest against reduced funding for HIV delayed the opening of the International AIDS Conference, where money, or the lack of it, is likely to dominate proceedings. Dozens of activists stormed the stage of Vienna's Reed Messe Centre, holding a giant banner reading "No Retreat, Fund AIDS".

The activists - among them HIV-positive people, NGO workers and sex workers - had earlier held a "die-in" at the conference venue to show the consequences of a global retreat in HIV funding.

According to a just-released report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and UNAIDS, in 2009, the Group of Eight (G8) nations, European Commission and other donor governments provided US$7.6 billion for AIDS efforts in developing nations, compared with US$7.7 billion in 2008. Donor countries have attributed the drop in contributions to the global economic crisis, but leading figures in the fight against HIV, say it is an excuse that rings hollow.

"[G8] leaders had no problem bailing out greedy Wall Street bankers and... a full 110 billion euros [US$142 billion] appeared from nowhere when the Greek economy faltered earlier this year, but the purse is always empty when it comes to global health," Julio Montaner, chair of the International AIDS Society, told delegates at the opening session. "It is a question of priorities."

The shortage of funds threatens to put a major kink in the latest plan by UNAIDS, "Treatment 2.0", which aims to drastically scale up testing and treatment. If successful, UNAIDS estimates it could avert 10 million deaths by 2025, and reduce new infections by a third.

Montaner said the growing evidence to support the prevention benefits of antiretroviral treatment could not be ignored.

"At this promising moment, we must stay the course," he said, adding that universal access to treatment was at the heart of the conference’s theme: “Rights Here, Right Now”.

Universal rights, universal access

"Instead of universal access, the people who suffer most face universal obstacles," said Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS. "No one should endure discrimination: not men who have sex with men, not transgender people, not sex workers, not people who inject drugs, not prisoners and especially not people living with HIV."

Vienna was chosen as the conference venue in part because of its proximity to Eastern Europe, home to the world's fastest growing HIV epidemic. Sidibé noted that Eastern Europe’s HIV epidemic, which is concentrated mainly among injecting drug users, had been exacerbated by stigma and punitive laws.

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The estimated 20,000 delegates were urged to get behind the Vienna Declaration, which calls for governments to forgo the "drug war" in favour of policies based on scientific evidence of the benefits of needle and syringe programmes and drug substitution therapy.

According to Yves Souteyrand, coordinator of the World Health Organization’s Strategic Information Unit, high-risk groups such as men who have sex with men, immigrants, sex workers and injecting drug users live outside the law in many countries. This has led to a lack of information about how HIV is affecting them or programming targeted at them.

"Human rights abuses continue to blind our knowledge of the epidemic and to challenge our ability to respond," he said. "Universal access to prevention cannot be achieved without universal access to human rights."

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Theme (s): Aid Policy, Care/Treatment - PlusNews, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews, PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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