Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on Member States to press ahead with efforts to realize the vision of a world free of AIDS, as the United Nations General Assembly met to consider progress in the global struggle against the epidemic.
Mr. Ban recalled that the Assembly's 2011 Political Declaration set out a new framework of shared responsibility and global solidarity. Since then, the world has moved closer to the goal of no new HIV infections, no discrimination and no AIDS-related deaths.
"We must move from treating millions with disease to giving billions the opportunity to live healthy lives," he stated. "The HIV response can help to build stronger, integrated health care systems that respond to broad needs across society.
"As the world shapes a post-2015 development agenda, we can draw important lessons from the global AIDS response. We can take inspiration from the activists, health workers, fundraisers, diplomats and ministers - the General Assembly and all of you."
"Now let us rise to the many serious challenges that remain to get the job done."
Today's meeting takes place almost half way to the target date set by the 2011 Political Declaration, and the Secretary-General noted that important progress has been made to turn the tide on the HIV epidemic.
"We are paving the way to achieve an AIDS-free generation," he told the 193-member body. "Overall, we will have reached the Millennium Development Goal to halt and reverse the spread of AIDS by 2015. But we must do more for individual countries and communities - and we need additional funding to fully realize our vision."
Outlining the progress to date, Mr. Ban said that the epidemic has been stabilized and the rate of new infections reversed in more than 56 countries. Globally, new HIV infections have declined by one fifth since 2001. Also, treatment now reaches more than half of all people who need it in low- and middle-income countries.
"Now we have to expand antiretroviral therapy. This is a human rights imperative and a public health necessity. Treatment prevents sickness, saves lives and eases the economic hardship that can cripple whole communities. We have brought the cost of many medicines down dramatically. We must continue to push hard for greater results," he added.
At the same time, Mr. Ban said that women and girls are still at unacceptably high risk of HIV, noting that every minute a young woman is infected. In addition, children's access to HIV treatment remains particularly low, with fewer than one third of children with HIV receiving the treatment they need.
"I continue to be disturbed by widespread stigma, discrimination, gender-based violence and punitive laws against people living with HIV - as well as those at high risk of infection," he stated. "This problem cannot be solved with more money. We all have to step up with courage and integrity to protect vulnerable members of our human family."
He pointed out that some 45 countries and territories continue to deny entry, stay and residence to people living with HIV, and called on them to repeal those discriminatory laws.
He also called for greater funding for programmes to help key populations, including sex workers, men who have sex with men and people who use drugs, as well as for efforts to eliminate the stigma and discrimination that surround HIV.
"Many governments and community leaders still have laws and policies that criminalize key populations and force them underground," Mr. Ban noted. "This is discriminatory and counterproductive. It drives people away from information, testing, treatment, care and support services. I have consistently said that human rights are universal and must be universally respected."
In a message delivered on his behalf by Ambassador Rodney Charles of Trinidad and Tobago, Assembly President Vuk Jeremic said that with sustained political and financial commitment, "we can one day overcome this epidemic."
Notwithstanding the progress made, more challenges remain, he added. "I call upon all stakeholders to accelerate and scale up their efforts... Working together, we can do more. Let us be bold in pursuing our vision of a world with zero new infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero stigma and discrimination."