It’s been a challenging but inspiring week in New York at the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS, where world leaders and diplomats gathered to approve a Political Declaration that will guide the global response to the HIV epidemic for the next five years.
We challenged bigotry and indifference towards gay and other men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, sex workers, transgender people, at the highest level of governance through strategic advocacy and powerful protest targeting UN member states.
We were privileged to carry out this work shoulder-to-shoulder with activist partners from ACT UP New York, AVAC, Caribbean Vulnerable Communities, Coalition Plus, The Global Forum on MSM & HIV, ICASO, the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, the International Women’s Health Coalition, STOPAIDS UK, Youth Voices Count, and dozens of other networks and organizations from around the world.
Together, we won bold new commitments, stopped some dangerous attempts to further weaken the declaration, and demonstrated that there is always great power when activists fight back.
We won a bold new target of reaching 30 million people living with HIV with lifesaving treatment by 2020, and a commitment to ensure that 25% of global funding for the response goes to preventing transmission of the virus.
We helped block dangerous attempts by the United States Government to remove language from the Political Declaration that defended countries’ rights to access more affordable generic medicines.
We braved thunder and rain (literally) and organized an inspiring protest outside the United Nations Headquarters to express our outrage over the weak declaration and to call on governments to act, even where their words fell short, generating coverage by over 130 media outlets around the world, including The New York Times, The Guardian, and POZ Magazine.
In the context of a final Political Declaration permanently stained by the absence of attention on gay and other men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, sex workers and transgender people, our pressure on governments to move from rhetoric to action on key populations helped lead to an important announcement by the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) of a new $100 million investment fund for key population-led civil society groups.
But for all the good things that activists helped win this week, it is clear that we continue to face strong headwinds from powerful decision-makers whose actions are fueling the epidemic and undermining an effective response. From bigotry and marginalization to undue power wielded by greedy pharmaceutical companies, we have our work cut out for us.
In just one month, activists from around the world will meet again at the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa for another historic week. Come hell or high water, we will once again call on world leaders to deliver on their promise to end the epidemic by 2030.