The President Sir Ratu Epeli Nailatikau has called on countries in the Asia Pacific region to make stronger commitments to end HIV and AIDS by the year 2030.
Whilst delivering the keynote address at the 2015 Asia and Pacific Intergovernmental Meeting on HIV and AIDS held in Bangkok, Thailand, the President said that while the region has made impressive gains to-date, much more still needs to be done.
“The challenge is to ensure that our commitments do not remain empty rhetoric or a string of words on a conference document. We must walk the talk so that we can secure a future of dignity for everyone and to leave no one behind.”
The theme of the intergovernmental meeting is “leaving no one behind”.
The President said that the Asia and Pacific region’s collective efforts in the past years has seen a reduction in new HIV infections, reduction in mother-to-child transmission, the use of existing flexibilities under trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) and the manufacture and accessibility of high quality, affordable generic drugs which have delivered life-saving treatment to millions of people living with HIV.
He said countries in the region have also taken responsibility for financing the AIDS response from domestic resources, citing Fiji as an example.
“I am pleased that my own country has taken this important step towards ensuring financial sustainability of the AIDS response by providing a grant for HIV prevention and care including free antiretroviral therapy,” the President said.
However, despite the collective strides in the region, large funding gaps still remain.
“External funding must be continued for the least-developed countries and Pacific Island Countries which cannot mobilize the resources to fund their own responses without compromising other health and development priorities,” the President said.
The President said that more robust human rights based approach to HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights is urgently required. This includes the need for anti-discrimination legislation, among others.
He said Pacific island countries today face rising levels of poverty, hardship and vulnerability, as well as deepening inequalities and growing youth unemployment, with at least one in every four people estimated to be living below the average national basic needs poverty line.
“HIV flourishes along with other sexually transmitted diseases in an environment where there is poverty, inequality and social exclusion. We must therefore tackle these broader development challenges to have a real chance to ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030,” he said.
The President called on the Asia and Pacific region to facilitate young people’s easy access to education and health services and also to reduce the vulnerability of women to HIV and STIs by improving their social and economic status including access to descent work and economic resources, protection from sexual and physical violence, and the right to make their own sexual and reproductive choices.
He also said that leadership and partnerships are both essential at all levels and from all sectors of society.
“Last but not least, we need to take ownership of the response to HIV and AIDS as individual countries and as a region,” the President said.