In The Field

International AIDS Conference: Lewis to UNAIDS: No Retreat

Is the UN Joint Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) retreating from a global commitment to provide HIV prevention, treatment and care to everyone who needs it by 2010?


Reaching that commitment, which was agreed to by the United Nations General Assembly in 2006, was a major focus of the XVII AIDS conference as it opened today in Mexico City. Yet, to Stephen Lewis, former UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, some are already preparing to back away from that goal.

Lewis, who now heads a foundation working in Africa, has gained a reputation for his outspokenness on issues related to HIV and human rights. He lived up to that reputation on Saturday night at a dinner in Mexico City hosted by the International Partnership for Microbicides.

Lewis pointed out what he saw as worrying signs in a report issued by UNAIDS the week before the conference.

In one section of the report, Lewis noted, UNAIDS spoke of universal access – but failed to mention a deadline by which the goal should be met. Other parts of the report use language that appears to back off from a firm commitment – for instance, speaking of moving as close as possible to universal access targets.

To Lewis, the report seemed to follow what he sees as a trend to push the universal access goal back to 2015 – a trend that, he says, is being led by the Group of Eight industrialized nations. This is a trend he calls “reprehensible.” Universal access may seem expensive, Lewis said, but it would be possible if rich nations delivered on their foreign aid promises.

And while Lewis acknowledged that the world is not on track to meet the 2010 goal, backing from it, he said, would be a huge mistake.

“I think that’s just wrong,” Lewis said. “You don’t concede the terrain in advance.”

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