Alliance Policy Manager Mike Podmore was at the UN High Level Meeting on AIDS last week where the General Assembly agreed on a new Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS. Here he reflects on the tense moments that saw the declaration pass and the disappointingly regressive stance the Holy See took to the document.
After a long week of difficult member state negotiations it was a huge relief for all when the General Assembly voted unanimously to agree the ‘Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS: Intensifying our efforts to eliminate HIV/AIDS‘.
The president of the general assembly asked all member states whether there were any objections to the declaration being agreed and everyone held their breath wondering whether the Arab block might speak up and insist going back to the negotiation table, most people had already seen a copy of their response to the declaration which rejected the language on key populations. The President of the General Assembly only waited a few anxious seconds before quickly hitting the gavel confirming the declaration accepted.
The first comments
The General Assembly erupted in enthusiastic loud applause. Then the floor was opened for comments from member states. The first comments were from Syria representing the Arab Block and Iran, who both rejected the specific inclusion of MSM, sex workers and injecting drug users in article 29 of the declaration. Thankfully Brazil and Mexico then followed and praised the inclusion of these groups in the Declaration for the first time. They also welcomed the language on the importance of generic ARVs, and funding for the Global Fund and UNTAID. In contrast to the uneasy quiet following Syria and Iran’s Comments, both Brazil and Mexico received a long round of applause and cheers.
The Holy See: the “only acceptable form of prevention is abstinence and fidelity”
In this unhappy game of diplomatic ping pong the Holy See then made a very depressing statement that argued that the HIV response needs a ‘value and morality based approach’. They completely rejected condoms as a prevention tool and stated that the “only acceptable form of prevention is abstinence and fidelity”. This was met by loud jeering and boos from those on the balcony who, unlike member states, are happily unbound by protocol.
The Holy See, unbowed by this, went on to reject harm reduction because “it is an offense to the dignity of people who use drugs because it implies they cannot overcome addiction”. It is very unlikely of course that people who use drugs would appreciate this type of concern for their dignity. They then turned to ‘prostitution’ and stated it is “not a legitimate form of work”. It is such a shame that the seeming progression of the Pope to accept condoms in certain circumstances a few months ago has taken such a huge step backwards.
Watch a video of the Holy See’s statement:
Far to go
The declaration shows we have made some important steps forward in understanding what works in the 30 years of the HIV response but the statement of the Holy See was a sad reminder of how far we still have to go to persuade some that the response to HIV must be based on human rights and rigorous evidence of what works.