UNAIDS Boss hails Summit, urges concrete action

Lagos- Nigeria (PANA) -- Decisions taken at last week's African Summit in Abuja on HIV/AIDS will amount to nothing unless they are translated to action to save the continent from the AIDS pandemic, according to a senior official of the UN agency for AIDS.
"Meetings like this are political meetings, and the way that one can work with it is that they are useful to hold governments accountable.
And so as far as we are concerned, a year from now, we will say, okay these are (the) number of commitments, where are we in each individual country and continentally," Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, told PANA in Abuja.
"That's the significance of these kinds of statement (Summit Declaration).
Otherwise they are not worth more than the paper they are printed on," He said.
"Of course, the challenge is that the words, great words are now translated into action, after the Summit.
" The Summit, the first time on any continent that Heads of Government would come together to discuss AIDS, attracted more than a dozen Presidents and representatives of more than 40 countries.
After two days of deliberation, preceded by a ministerial and technical session to prepare the Declaration and Action Plan, the leaders agreed to make the fight against HIV/AIDS their highest priority and to allocate more resources to strengthen their health systems and fight the disease, as well as other related infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.
Piot described the Summit as "historic," especially within the context of Africa's response to the pandemic which has left the continent with 24.
5 million of the 36 million people infected with AIDS world-wide.
"Let's not forget that this is the first time on any continent that Heads of State come together to discuss AIDS.
Whereas, frankly, even a year ago this would not have been possible," he said.
"Until a few years ago, many countries even at the highest level were in a state of denial about this epidemic.
So this is a historic event," the UNAIDS boss added.
Piot also spoke on some activities of his organisation, saying UNAIDS had paid much attention to care and treatment of people with HIV, especially in the past two years, in addition to helping to bring down the price of anti-retroviral drugs, used for the treatment.
"Over the last few years, I think we have been very successful in bringing down the price of so-called anti-retroviral drugs.
We've brought this down by about 90 percent.
"However, we are still talking about 600 to 1,200 US dollars per person per year.
This is a lot of money, too much for most people.
But it has come down from over 10,000 (dollars).
We will continue to work on that," he assured.
However, he expressed concern at the attention focused on the drugs, especially in the past few months and during South Africa's successful battle against the big pharmaceutical companies opposed to the country's resort to the use of generic drugs to treat infected people.
"I am indeed concerned that with what's going on at the moment, particularly in the media, that all attention is focused on treatment and anti-retroviral drugs.
While I applaud that finally the wealthy countries are waking up to the problems of AIDS in Africa and to the injustice that.
people who are infected, don't have access to the drugs.
I think we have to make sure that we keep the balance right.
"The better job we do on prevention, the less people will need treatment.
And so we have to continue to intensify prevention.
while at the same time building up the treatment.
We have to do both.
It is not that we have a choice," Piot said.
Describing South Africa as critical to the global response to the epidemic, in view of its number of people infected and response, the UNAIDS Executive Director expressed happiness with the country's prevention strategies.
"First of all, South Africa is the most affected country in terms of AIDS in absolute numbers -- 4.
7 million infected people.
Secondly, it is a country that certainly in the southern part of the continent, has a lead role in many aspects.
"And thirdly there is a lot of migration and movement, be it long term or short term.
So it is a critical country in the global response to the epidemic and that's why I am happy that the prevention efforts in South Africa now, particularly directed to its young people, have really taken off," he said.
But Piot warned against compulsory testing of people for the AIDS virus so as not to drive them (people) underground, especially against the growing practice, in some countries, demanding HIV-free certificates from couples seeking to get married in Churches or those seeking employment.
He said the position of the UN system had always been that no one should be tested against his/her wish, "because it is not really going to solve anything.
" "Whereas we are promoting .
voluntary testing and counselling in confidentiality, because that will help people in adopting safe behaviour.
frankly, it (compulsory testing) just doesn't work.
It drives people underground," Piot said.
"Who wants to be tested or go to a place if you know you'll be tested, and particularly as is the case nearly everywhere that you don't even have prospective for any treatment.
All that is waiting for you is bad news, negative news.
and you may lose your job and so on.
In addition to being a violation of human rights, one should not be tested for anything against their will," he added.

02 may 2001 20:13:00

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