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Published:June 4th, 2006 03:30 EST
United Nations and AIDS

United Nations and AIDS

By Nikki Savastone

Twenty-five years after the discovery of HIV/AIDS the United Nations began a conference May 31 about the disease. An African woman was the first to address the delegates from more than 180 nations wearing a shirt that said, “HIV Positive.” She explained how the meeting is still vital in the battle against HIV/AIDS. First Lady Laura Bush and a large delegation from the U.S. attended the various meetings from May 31 to June 2 along with heads of state, cabinet ministers and more than 1,000 representatives of civil society and the private sector.

Peter Piot, UNAIDS Executive Director said, “Goals that seemed impossible to achieve just twenty years ago have been realized.”

He also explained that to succeed, “The General Assembly must get clear financial commitments and set targets for long-term universal access to prevention, treatment and care.”

The U.N. heard stories from Khensani Mavasa of Limpopo South Africa describing how thousands of people are living with AIDS everyday. Yet, for the thousands that get treatment, millions more are dying.

"Because of scientific advances of the past 25 years, I have hope that when the time comes for me to take treatment, it would be available," Mavasa said.

"The entire world's HIV-positive people deserve this hope.  All the 14,000 more that will be infected by the end of today deserve this hope. None of the 900 people who will die in my country deserve to die today."

Women make up almost half of the people living with AIDS, according to UNAIDS. It is estimated that 17.3 million women are infected and 77 percent of new cases are women.

"I call on African leaders sitting here to protect and promote the human rights of all people in vulnerable groups, particularly women and girls," Mavasa said.  

"We ask that you not fail us yet again."   General Assembly President Jan Eliasson said that the focus of the meeting was the “feminization of the epidemic.”

UNAIDS released a report May 30 entitled, “2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic:  A UNAIDS 10th Anniversary Special Edition.” The document reviews five-years of progress in AIDS, through countries' increase in funding and treatment.

Statistically, HIV cases seem to have stabilized since the 1990s; however, population increase has caused an increase in the number of people living with the disease.  At the end of 2005, an estimated 38.6 million people worldwide were living with HIV.