Melbourne, Australia – Tackling HIV requires courageous and committed policy-makers and law-makers said the UN’s development chief at the 20th International AIDS Conference.
“Parliamentarians have an indispensable role to play in building the coalitions for action to change bad laws which entrench exclusion, and to ensure that services are available to at risk groups often shunned by society,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark. “You can also advocate for gender equality, women’s empowerment, and action against sexual and gender-based violence to lower the disproportionate risk of HIV infection faced by women and girls.”
The bi-annual international AIDS conference brings together HIV experts, high-level policy makers, persons living with HIV, and other individuals committed to ending the pandemic. Helen Clark made her remarks while addressing Parliamentarians at an event highlighting the role they can play in addressing AIDS.
UNDP is the world’s largest implementer of parliamentary development programming, and is currently doing this work in 68 countries.
“UNDP aims to build the capacity of parliamentarians to work on crucial issues – of which HIV is clearly one,” she said. “HIV/AIDS can trap families, communities, and nations in poverty - the world won’t eradicate poverty without tackling this epidemic decisively.”
“Fighting the spread of HIV often means politicians and officials being prepared to go well beyond their personal comfort zones to ensure access to services for those on the margins of society,” she continued. “In doing this, it helps to have a conducive legal and policy environment. Wherever there are bad laws, effective responses to the HIV epidemic are much more difficult to implement.”
Supported by the UNDP Pacific Centre, Members of Parliament (MPs) from the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tonga are among the many participants at the conference.
“The conference is an important opportunity for us to learn of the work that is ongoing and the latest issues in the HIV field. As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to show leadership on HIV issues…In Tonga this means working with all groups and communities who are impacted by HIV,” said the Honourable Lisiate ‘Akolo from Tonga.
“As MPs we need more information on both HIV statistics in the Pacific but also what we as MPs should be doing to ensure that people in Solomon Islands who are infected with HIV receive access to treatment and receive the support needed,” said the Honourable Shanel Agovaka from the Solomon Islands.
Speaking about the challenges of small countries like Kiribati, the Honourable Nabuti Mwemwenikarawa said: “It is important that our MPs are involved in discussions and debates with other parliamentarians across the world. It is indeed true that as national leaders, parliamentarians must show courage and leadership on HIV issues.”
“As Chair of the Parliament HIV AIDS Committee, I was delighted to be able to be at the meeting and hear the experiences of other MPs on how their parliaments are engaging with HIV/AIDS,” said Honourable Daniel Mona from Papua New Guinea. “When I return to Papua New Guinea I will be working with our partners to make sure that the Parliament Committee plays an increasingly central role in raising HIV issues in parliament and being a bridge between parliament and civil society.”
The UNDP-led Global Commission on HIV and the Law found that changes in the law and policy, combined with other interventions, could lower new adult HIV infections globally to an estimated 1.2 million by 2031. This compares to an estimated 2.1 million new infections under business as usual. The accelerated effort demands stronger adherence to human rights principles and actions to promote access to health for all, particularly among key populations, such as men-who-have-sex-with-men, sex workers, transgender people and people who use drugs.
As a leading co-sponsor of UNAIDS, UNDP works with countries to understand and respond to the development dimensions of HIV and health, recognizing that action outside the health sector can contribute significantly to better health outcomes. UNDP supports countries to integrate attention to HIV in national planning, gender equality and MDG efforts; promote enabling human rights and legislative environments to reduce vulnerability to HIV and strengthen governance and coordination of national responses; and strengthen implementation of complex, multilateral and multi-sectoral funds and programmes including those financed by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
About 20TH International AIDS Conference
The 20th International AIDS Conference will be held in Melbourne, Australia from 20-25 July 2014 and is themed “stepping up the pace.” According to the organisers, the title of this year’s AIDS conference is an acknowledgement that the AIDS response is at a critical juncture. The organisers intend to use the Melbourne AIDS conference to keep HIV at the top of the global health agenda, particularly post-2015.