stop aids hiv.jpg
Photograph: / toomas järvet

UN member states pledged Wednesday to intensify the fight against AIDS and reaffirmed their resolve to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

The renewed commitments came during the opening session of a UN high-level meeting on eradicating the disease.

The political declaration, which was adopted by consensus by all UN member states, is seen as a victory by many for its mention of particularly vulnerable populations and its ambitious pledge to provide 30 million people living with HIV access to treatment by 2020.

However, critics say the text doesn't not go far enough.

The document notes that people who inject drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people and prisoners are considered "key populations" with higher risks of HIV infection globally.

The reference to key populations remained in the final document despite Russia's last-minute effort to weaken the text, which led to negotiations stretching late into Tuesday night.

After the adoption of the document, Russia said it had reservations with the references to key populations and harm reduction, stressing that countries have the sovereign right to fight AIDS with measures that are in line with their national legislation, traditions and norms.

Australia and Canada expressed disappointment that the text doesn't explicitly call to end the stigma, discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people worldwide.

The United States said the declaration should have put more emphasis on the protection of human rights, including sexual health and reproductive rights of girls and women.

A coalition of 49 civil society organisations also urged stronger commitments for funding and providing tailored services for key populations.

Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, the agency coordinating UN resources in the fight against the disease, welcomed the declaration.

"I know it was not easy ... but this political declaration will certainly help us close a door and open a new one for ending AIDS," Sidibe said.

He encouraged countries to intensify their efforts to meet the goal of ending the epidemic by 2030, noting that for the first time in history, the AIDS epidemic in Africa has reached a "tipping point."

"It is a first time indeed that we have more people on treatment in Africa than newly infected, which is just amazing," he said.

Warning that the next five years are crucial in the fight against AIDS, Sidibe called on countries to adopt the UN's fast-track approach, which aims to reduce the number of new infections from 2.1 million in 2015 to less than 500,000 in 2020 and lower the number of deaths of AIDS-related illnesses from 1.1 million in 2015 to 500,000 in 2020.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the progress made during the last 15 years noting that more than 17 million people receive life-saving antiretroviral treatment today.

"But AIDS is far from over," he said. "Over the next five years, we have a window of opportunity to radically change the trajectory of the epidemic and put an end to AIDS forever."

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