by William M. Reilly
UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 1 (Xinhua) -- As the World AIDS Day falls on Thursday, the United Nations called for a greater effort in the face of difficult financial times to carry the battle against AIDS through to victory.
"Never before in the history of AIDS have we reached a moment where we are able to stand up and say with conviction the end of AIDS is in sight," said Michel Sidibe, executive director of the Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), in a statement.
The theme this year is "Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination, Zero AIDS."
Echoing Sidibe's optimism, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his annual message, "We are finally in a position to end the epidemic."
But, he said, "To end AIDS we need to deliver even great results," and recalled the UN General Assembly's High Level Meeting on AIDS resolving by 2015 to reduce sexual transmission of HIV by half, eliminate new infections in children, provide treatment for 15 million people living with HIV, end stigma and discrimination and close the AIDS funding gap.
"With strong political will, reasonable financial resources and a firm human rights-based approach, we can achieve all of these targets," Ban said. "Financing will be crucial to success," adding, "The results would offset the upfront costs in less than one generation."
Building on the political commitments, investments, energy, activism and determination that has brought us this far, the secretary-general said, "Momentum is on our side. Let's use it to end AIDS -- once and for all."
Sidibe's equally optimistic statement described the past year as one of "achievements, of collective action, of resilience and of courage. In spite of the economic downturn that has stretched the AIDS response to its limits, millions of lives have been saved, as HIV treatment and prevention efforts continue to show results."
The UNAIDS chief also said, "the divide between health and AIDS has narrowed, as AIDS comes out of isolation and into integrated and holistic health services. The AIDS response has paved the path for a people-centered health delivery system."
In cavernous Conference Room II at UN Headquarters in New York, the UN Department of Public Information held a briefing to bring correspondents and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) up to date.
Eric Sawyer, civil society partnership advisor at the New York office of UNAIDS, who has been living with the symptoms of the disease for 30 years, was another optimist, but also presented the realism of data.
However, he was quick to point out the anti-HIV/AIDS effort has been able "to mobilize an incredible amount of resources to HIV more than has ever been mobilized for a global public health emergency or even a serious development issue."
The AIDS activist -- he was a co founder of ACT UP NY, Housing Works, and Health GAP, Inc. a global advocacy for vital medicines - - said that a number of nations have "backed away or are not delivering on pledges made previously or because of the financial crisis are not coming forward with new pledges."
"For every person that we get on HIV treatment, almost two people are getting infected," he said. "So, we are not keeping up with the epidemic."
With graphs and charts Sawyer showed there were an increasing 34 million people living with HIV -- 5 million of them young people -- because of about 2.7 million new infections -- more women than men -- and 1.8 million deaths in the last year.
With the fewer deaths and new infections down, there is an increase in the total number living with HIV.
He called for greater programs targeted at young people, using social programs such as Twitter, advocating condom use and male circumcision among other projects.
David Hoos is an internist and an assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York.
He also lamented the decrease in public funding, but acknowledged "the significant impact of investments we have made."
"Even though the number of new infections per year is decreasing, it's seen most strikingly in young people," Hoos said. Young people have 41 percent of all new infections.
"Most young people are infected sexually, not through mother-to- child transmission," he said. "Looking at data, at the rate of HIV infection among young people, is a very powerful way to look at whether or not our prevention work is effective."
"The rate of HIV infection in young people is most sensitive to population-based changes," the doctor said. "In 2010 there were 21 countries where the prevalence, the rate of HIV, has declined, five more countries than in 2009. So we are seeing victories and we are seeing corresponding changes in sexual behavior." Sawyer later said that he recognized a "whole dichotomy over sex. "
"Our TV shows, our music videos, movies and commercials give us sex, sex, sex all the time, yet we don't talk about sex," he said. "We don't talk about condoms, can't (in the United States) advertise condoms on TV."
"The U.S. has to realize that almost everybody has sex, or wants to, and, get over it, teach people how to have sex responsibly and enjoyably," he said.