Policy and funding must now follow evidence that shows that all people with HIV should receive antiretroviral treatment regardless of stage of disease
Vancouver, BC – At the opening of the International AIDS Society annual conference in Vancouver, Canada on Sunday July 19, scientists, researchers and activists issued a joint-call for an immediate increase in funding and marshaling of political commitment needed for world leaders to act decisively on new scientific evidence that all people with HIV should be treated with antiretroviral therapy, regardless of stage of disease, in order to maximize the clinical and prevention benefit of HIV treatment.
This call to action—referred to as the Vancouver Consensus by its supporters—has already been endorsed by the leadership of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, UNAIDS, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the International AIDS Society and the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care.
“The question no longer is whether life saving HIV treatment should be offered to all people with HIV but how to ensure treatment for all becomes a reality—through increased funding, higher quality programs, and laws and policies that defend the human rights of people with HIV and communities at greatest risk of infection,” said Asia Russell, Executive Director of Health GAP. “AIDS cannot be defeated if world leaders refuse to act on the science. Many countries facing massive burden of untreated HIV are still implementing outdated paradigms, waiting until people are sick before offering them treatment—because governments are breaking their funding promises.”
“Achieving the global target set in 2011 of reaching 15 million people with treatment by 2015—a target many dismissed as unrealistic–shows that ambitious treatment scale up goals are achievable,” said Matthew Kavanagh, Senior Policy Analyst at Health GAP. “The challenges are real—19 million people do not know their HIV status. Many treatment programs do not invest in community based follow up for HIV positive patients that is needed to ensure people are retained and supported in care. These challenges can be overcome—but only if our leaders act.”
Investment by some major donors, including the US government, in the AIDS response has flat-lined or been cut in recent years. This is leading to rationing of treatment in heavily impacted countries, and resulting in significantly reduced donor investments in middle-income countries with concentrated epidemics.
The impact of the lack of sufficient donor support and political priority is that countries are not able to act on the compelling new evidence about how best to address the epidemic.
“The Government of Malawi has already made a commitment to providing immediate access to treatment for all people living with HIV. However, we are told that this can not be implemented until 2017 and that it will not be possible without significant help from bi-lateral and multilateral donors,” said Safari Mbewe, Executive Director of the Malawi Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (MANET+).
“The global call to end AIDS is a false promise without sufficient funding and political will,” said Maureen Milanga, Health GAP’s Kenya National Organizer.
Health GAP is calling on world leaders, donors and Ministry of Finance representatives from key affected countries, to convene an urgent meeting to review the latest science on the sidelines of the United Nations Summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda, taking place in New York City in September this year.
Early signatories of the Vancouver Consensus include United States Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé, UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia Michel Kazatchkine, and President of the International AIDS Society Chris Beyrer, Editor-in-chief of The Lancet, and renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs among others.