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Optimistic UNAIDS sets ambitious goals

Michel Sidibe new UNAIDS executive director in Khayelitsha Lee Middleton/IRIN
The new executive director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibe
Wearing an orange "HIV Positive" t-shirt, the new executive director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe, this week outlined his vision for the UN agency at the Ubuntu Clinic in Khayelitsha township in Cape Town, South Africa.

Sidibe called himself an "incorrigible optimist" and promised to make universal access a priority. His goal is to avert 2.6 million new infections and save 1.3 million lives by the end of 2010. He also set his agency the task of ensuring that 70 million women will be screened for HIV, and 7 million orphans will receive support.

"We cannot transform this epidemic if we don't produce results, if we don't make sure that women and children are the centres of our preoccupation," he said. Sidibe also emphasised the need to treat HIV and TB together as a dual epidemic.

To achieve these goals, he called for an investment of US$25 billion. "We cannot let the economic crisis paralyse us," he said, acknowledging the difficulty of raising funds in the current global economic crisis.

"Stimulus packages and economic adjustments should be made with a human face in mind. The world has a political responsibility to stabilise market failure, but the same world has a moral and social responsibility that the 4 million people on treatment will continue to have treatment, that 6 million more will have access to treatment, and that we will not break the hope of 12 million orphans."

Asked where the money would come from, Sidibe pointed out that $14 billion was already available in domestic resources, and stressed the importance of making a case for this expenditure to be viewed as in investment in people.

"[This investment] will help us to strengthen our government systems, help to build democratic societies, reform our laws, and make sure that there are healthy people who can continue to work and produce."

He outlined a three-pronged strategy for achieving his vision of an "AIDS transition" with fewer people infected than on treatment: constructing a social movement around prevention; handling the underlying causes of HIV, such as women's position in society, sexual violence, and concurrent partnerships; and continued prevention research on microbicides, vaccines and pre-exposure prophylactics, among others.

''We cannot transform this epidemic if we don't produce results, if we don't make sure that women and children are the centres of our preoccupation''
Addressing the ebullient crowd of community and political leaders, members of HIV/AIDS related organisations, health workers and community members, Sidibe praised Khayelitsha's role as exemplifying the good fight in the struggle against HIV/AIDS.

"Khayelitsha was able to demonstrate before anyone [else] that universal access [to antiretroviral medication] is possible, that universal access is not a dream. You have been able to break this war between AIDS and health, to break a conspiracy of silence, and to build one of the biggest, broadest social movement agencies to come together and give resources to our fight."

Medical humanitarian agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) began offering antiretroviral therapy in Khayelitsha in 2001, when the provision of anti-AIDS drugs in the public sector was still illegal because the South African government deemed the rollout too complex and expensive to implement.

Sidibe hopes that under his leadership, UNAIDS will become "the voice of voiceless", an aspiration exemplified in his choice of Khayelitsha as the site for his first speech during his visit to South Africa.

Another direction he proposed for UNAIDS was moving the AIDS response into national and community ownership, "so it's owned by respective communities and nation."

Finally, he pledged to mobilize UNAIDS to keep fighting the criminalization of HIV, and "to work for protecting people who are excluded - homosexuals, sex workers, drug-users - and people who don't have access to information or services."

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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