10m people living with HIV still have no access to anti-retroviral treatment

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We all recollect, the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, were plagued by confusion, fear, isolation, and discrimination against those infected or at higher risk.
Very quickly this virus grew into an epidemic that infected nearly 80 million people around the globe and took the lives of nearly half of those.
Further, the HIV epidemic not only affected the health of individuals, it also impacted households, communities, and the development and economic growth of nations.

Many of the countries hardest hit by HIV also suffered from other infectious diseases, food insecurity, and other serious problems.
Science, thankfully, paved the way to better drugs – both preventive and for treatment – and awareness campaigns turned what was once only whispered in hallways into an open dialogue at every level.
It may have taken us decades, but together we turned a corner on HIV/AIDS, making it truly a preventable and certainly a treatable disease.
Yet, we cannot ignore the lessons learned during this time.
How many hid their diagnoses due to social stigma?
How many received misinformation on prevention or treatment?
How many policymakers delayed acting?
This should sound familiar.

As a species, we cannot turn a blind eye to the suffering of our fellow women and men. We have a responsibility to act.
This meeting is an opportunity to discuss how the experience of fighting against HIV/AIDS can inform and guide effective, human rights sensitive and people-centered responses to infectious diseases, such as COVID-19.
We are fortunate, that human ingenuity has delivered us effective vaccines for COVID-19 in a record time.
Now, with more variants on the horizon, we must move quickly to close the gap in access and ensure vaccine equity.
In this context, I am convening a High-level Meeting on Universal access to vaccines on 13 January next year, as an opportunity to commit to tackle inequalities and ensure equal and fair access to treatment for all, without discrimination.
As with HIV/AIDS, misinformation is also threatening progress in our fight against COVID-19. We must resort to all available communication tools to better address health and social issues with a human rights perspective.

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Just as the lessons from HIV/AIDS can and have impacted our response to COVID-19, so too our experiences during this novel pandemic renew our commitment to get the world back on track to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
The impacts on frontline workers, on health systems, on education, on global transportation and on supply chains, all offer a wealth of experiences that must be incorporated in our strategies to strengthen public health and fight HIV/AIDS.
Because, as we praise the lessons learned in these forty years, we should acknowledge that that the fight against HIV/AIDS is far from over.
10 million people living with HIV still have no access to anti-retroviral treatment.
Key populations, including young women and members of the LGBTI community, continue to bear a disproportionate impact.
Stigma, discrimination and punitive laws against people living with and at risk of HIV continue to exist, hindering access to prevention and treatment.
The adoption of the political Declaration in 2021, in which Member States recommitted to ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030, was an important milestone in the fight against HIV.

In line with the fourth ray of my Presidency of Hope, I call on all stakeholders to ensure that we work to protect the human rights of all, and that everyone can access health services without any stigma and discrimination.
We must empower communities and put them at the center of our responses.
We must also close the funding gap to fight these pandemics.
And we must reinforce international cooperation and solidarity in the fight against HIV, against COVID-19, and on any public health issue that protects our people.
Let us give people hope that the United Nations acknowledges the struggles they face and is working to support them
I thank you

Editor’s note: Remarks by H.E. Mr. Abdulla Shahid, President of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, 30 November 2021

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