NEW YORK CITY, May 31 ˆ On the 25th anniversary of the AIDS pandemic, thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS and activists from around the world marched and protested outside high-level United Nations meetings on HIV/AIDS. Expressing outrage and disappointment that 15 million people have died from AIDS since the UN meetings in 2001 where leaders made commitments to fight the pandemic, activists demanded leaders implement science-based HIV prevention and universal access to AIDS treatment. In addition, 25 million more people have been newly infected since 2001.

Activists from 5 Continents Take to the Streets

The diverse crowd of protesters, including members of civil society delegations attending the UN meetings and many east coast AIDS service organizations, participated in a rally emceed by actress Rosie Perez, also an AIDS activist. Perez commented that, „People living with HIV have a right to the treatment they need and all communities have a right to effective prevention. It is enraging that despite leaders‚ promises to provide this, we still have to take to the streets to demand action on these issues.‰

Activists, in „HIV POSITIVE‰ t-shirts made famous in South African campaigns to fight AIDS stigma and empower people living with HIV/AIDS, marched through the streets of midtown Manhattan stopping at the Missions to the UN of Uganda, India and U.S. They delivered demands of civil society in those countries calling for increased HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention, and care.

Activists: We Need Action Not Words!

Inside the UN, world leaders met to review progress on 2001 commitments and issue a political declaration outlining goals for the coming years. But activists emphasized that actions speak louder than words and questioned why the US delegation was led, not by an elected leader or actual policy-maker, but by First Lady Laura Bush. „We need a real action plan and funding promises to get drugs into bodies and prevention tools to the people‰ said Waheedah Shabazz-El of ACTUP Philadelphia. „Where‚s the $20 billion a year we‚re going to need coming from in all these nice but empty sentiments?‰

10 Million by 2010!

Prominent AIDS activists from five continents spoke at the rally and highlighted the urgent need for vastly scaled-up access to affordable HIV treatment and care programs. „There is broad international consensus that we need to commit to 10 million people on treatment by 2010 and that we need major new funding plans to do that. It is inexcusable that some governments are currently resisting this goal, especially in the wake of their failure to meet the promise of 3 million on treatment by 2005,‰ said Sipho Mthathi of the Treatment Access Campaign in South Africa.

The WHO estimates that today only about 1 in 6 people in need of treatment have access. To reach this goal, activists are demanding increased funding, policies that promote affordable generic drugs rather than big drug company profits, and training and support to scale-up the number of health care worker in shortage areas.

Real Prevention Demanded

Activists also focused on the need to implement science-based prevention strategies, including female and male condoms and harm reduction programs, that will be responsive to women, drug-users, men who have sex with men, sex workers, and other vulnerable populations. They criticized governments for neglecting these groups and accused the U.S. government of enacting highly-politicized and ineffective prevention policies. According to Jodi Jacobson of the Center for Health and Gender Equity the U.S. prohibits funding of proven public health strategies, such as needle exchange, has dramatically increased funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, and supports policies that foster discrimination against marginalized groups, such as sex workers.

In one example of the outcome of such policies, the Uganda AIDS Commission reports that the rate of new infections in Uganda has nearly doubled since 2003. "As these data now confirm, Uganda's once effective HIV prevention programs have been hijacked by ideologically-driven religious groups that are largely supported by U.S. dollars. These groups are anti-women and anti-condoms, oppose teaching people about safer sex practices, and have fueled a dangerous resurgence of stigma and discrimination against HIV-positive persons," said Beatrice Were of Action Aid Uganda.

Activists decried similar ideologically-driven failures in US domestic prevention. „Here in New York City, infection rates among intravenous drug users declined by 80% in the 10 years since needle exchange programs have been legalized yet many people throughout the country are becoming needlessly infected as funding conditionalities undermine prevention,‰ said Jason Farrell, Executive Director of Positive Health Project.

Local and Global Failures Bring People To The Streets

This unique protest brought out people from as close as New York‚s five boroughs and as far as Indonesia. Amos Hough of the New York City AIDS Housing Network said, „Bush wants to be seen throughout the world as compassionate yet here in the United States we have people dying while they wait on lists for medications, and right here in NYC AIDS is the number one killer among homeless people.‰

Joining him in the protest, Gracia Violeta Ross from Bolivia‚s Network of People Living with AIDS commented, „We were here at the UN five years ago demanding government action and we‚re still waiting for leaders to act. We don‚t want to be here again five years from now˜we demand real, universal treatment, prevention, and care.‰

Background for UNGASS AIDS Issues

In 2001, world leaders gathered at the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on HIV/AIDS to declare promises on scaling up treatment and prevention to fight the pandemic. On May 31-June 2, world leaders are again meeting at the 2006 UN High Level Meeting on AIDS to evaluate the progress made towards their original goals from 2001 and to declare new commitments to continue fighting AIDS.

In the five years since that original meeting, 15 million more people have died of AIDS and 25 million people have been newly infected with HIV.

A coalition of a dozen AIDS service organizations and activist groups organized today's rally and march with the endorsement of 89 organizations from 37 countries who stand in solidarity on the demands for universal access to all in need:

FUNDING

While recent years have seen increased funding, UNAIDS today estimates a need for at over $20 billion annually by 2010 to meet global goals.

TREATMENT

IN THE US over 1,000 individuals were on waitlists for HIV treatment at the beginning of this year. According to one recent report, half of all HIV+ people in the U.S. who need treatment are not receiving it. (National Association of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, 2006; Open Society Institute, 2006)

THROUGHOUT THE WORLD only 1.3 million individuals are receiving antiretrovirals out of the 6.5 million in clinical need of HIV treatment. (World Health Organization, 2006)

This summer the G8 leaders of the wealthiest countries in the world committed to „as close as possible‰ to universal access to AIDS drugs. According to projections, this will mean getting at least 10 million people on treatment by 2010. (UNAIDS, July 2005, p19) Currently several countries are resisting committing to such a target at the UN.

To achieve universal treatment access trade agreements and procurement programs must promote production of affordable generic medications, The Global Fund for AIDS, TB, and Malaria must be supported with full funding and the U.S. government must fund a comprehensive Ryan White Care Act, and governments must fund and support minimum levels of 1 community health care worker per 1,000 residents. (Physicians for Human Rights, 2006)

COMPREHENSIVE PREVENTION

IN THE US 51% of new infections occur in African Americans though they make up only 13% of the population. (CDC, 2006)

According to the UN Secretary General‚s report, a mere 9% of men who have sex with men received any type of HIV prevention services in 2005. Among people who inject drugs, fewer than one in five receives HIV prevention serves. A condom was used on average in only 9% of „risky‰ sex in the past year. (UN/Kofi Annan, 2006)

In 17 of 20 countries in receiving US PEPFAR funding, abstinence-only earmarks in funding restricted the ability of programs to respond to local prevention needs (US Government Accountability & Oversight Office, 2006)

THE SPONSORING COALITION for the AIDS 2006 Universal Access March & Rally:
- ACTUP - New York
- ACTUP - Philadelphia
- African Services Committee
- American Jewish World Service
- Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP)
- Friends of TAC - North America
- Gay Men's Health Crisis
- Health GAP (Global Access Project)
- Housing Works
- New York City AIDS Housing Network (NYCAHN)
- Positive Health Project
- Student Global AIDS Campaign