‘Greater urgency’ needed in fight against HIV/AIDS, warns UN agency, amidst $1 billion investment cuts

16 July 2019

The UN programme leading the global effort to end AIDS is calling for greater urgency and more funding in the fight against the disease, with data showing that the pace of progress in reducing new HIV infections is slowing, and some countries experiencing a rising number of cases.

Ending AIDS is possible if we focus on people, not diseases Gunilla Carlsson, acting Executive Director of UNAIDS

The news comes in a new UNAIDS report, Communities at the centre, launched on Tuesday at a community event in Eshowe, South Africa, which also shows that the global resources available for the AIDS response have declined “significantly”, by nearly $1 billion.

The gap between the resources needed and those available is widening, as donors provide less funding, and domestic investments grow too slowly to compensate for inflation.

UNAIDS estimates that some $26.2 billion is needed by 2020: the 2018 amount available for the AIDS response was approximately $7.2 billion short of that figure.

‘Key populations’ at high risk

The report reveals that, from 2010 to 2018, the number of new HIV infections declined by 16 per cent, with around 1.7 million people infected in 2018. The drop is driven mostly by steady progress across most of eastern and southern Africa.

However, the picture looks very different – and far less positive – in other regions, which have seen a rising number of cases: In eastern Europe and central Asia, AIDS-related deaths have risen by five per cent and, in the Middle East and North Africa, by nine per cent, since 2010.“Key populations” — which include people who inject drugs, gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers and prisoners—now account for more than half of new HIV infections globally.

In eastern Europe and central Asia and in the Middle East and North Africa, that figure rises dramatically to around 95 per cent, which highlights that key populations are still being marginalized and being left behind in the response to HIV.

“We urgently need increased political leadership to end AIDS,” said Gunilla Carlsson, acting Executive Director of UNAIDS. “This starts with investing adequately and smartly, and by looking at what’s making some countries so successful. Ending AIDS is possible if we focus on people, not diseases, and take a human rights-based approach to reaching people most affected by HIV.”

Survivors of ISIL terror in Iraq want justice, not revenge, says head of UN investigation team

15 July 2019

The scale and barbarity of the crimes committed by ISIL have ultimately served not to divide but to unify, Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, head of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (UNITAD), told the Security Council on Monday.

UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Mr. Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, Special Adviser of the Investigative Team addressing the UN Security Council meeting on the situation in Iraq.

Mr. Khan was delivering his second report on the activities of UNITAD, during which he confirmed that his team has made “significant progress” in implementing its’ mandate, and that he expects investigators to provide concrete support for at least one case before the national courts, marking an “important milestone” in the delivery of their mandate.

The team, he said, had heard harrowing accounts of “mass killings, of entire families erased and of women and girls taken as slaves”.

He added that their courage in coming forward served to underline both “their continued heroism and the urgency with which we must work in order to deliver meaningfully on the promise made to them”, referring to the 2017 Security Council resolution that led to the creation of UNITAD.

The message of the survivors — from Shia, Sunni, Yazidi, Christian, Kaka’i, Shabak and Turkmen communities — is that ISIL fighters must face justice, not revenge, he stated.

OCHA/ Themba Linden
Civilians foraging near the Mosul University Presidency building, which bears the scars of fighting between Iraqi troops and ISIL militants.(file photo)

‘Significant progress’ being made

The progress that Mr. Khan referred to during his briefing includes putting in place core staffing, facilities and evidence collection practices; the employment of 79 staff members in Iraq – including criminal investigators, analysts, witness protection experts and forensic scientists – 55 per cent of whom are women; and the collection of documentary, digital, testimonial and forensic material is now being collected.

Initial investigative work is focused on three areas:  attacks committed by ISIL against the Yazidi community in the Sinjar district in August 2014, crimes committed by ISIL in Mosul between 2014 and 2016, and the mass killing of unarmed Iraqi air force cadets from Tikrit Air Academy in June 2014.

In the last two weeks alone, said Mr. Khan, UNITAD has gained access to more than 600,000 videos related to ISIL crimes relevant to investigative work, as well as over 15,000 pages of internal ISIL documents originally obtained from the battlefield by leading investigative journalists.

The Investigative Team, continued Mr. Khan, has received crucial support, from the Government of Iraq, Iraqi national authorities, and the Kurdistan Regional Government. Going forward, the team’s work remains dependent on the continued support of the Security Council and the international community more broadly.

The ultimate success of the work of UNITAD, concluded Mr. Khan, will depend on the investigative team’s ability to draw on its independent and impartial status in order to make its work the “product of a collective endeavour”: a partnership between the Council, the victims and survivors of ISIL, national authorities and local actors, non-governmental organizations and academic institutions.

“It is only through such unity, and through our common recognition of the scale and gravity of the crimes committed by ISIL, that meaningful accountability can be achieved”.

‘No hope’ global development goals can be achieved without women, says UN Assembly President

15 July 2019

Without the full participation and leadership of women, “we have no hope” of realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the President of the United Nations General Assembly told gender equality leaders on Monday.

“This is an obvious point to make, but it is, sadly, one that we cannot repeat enough”, she said, opening the day-long discussion at UN Headquarters in New York to identify best practices aimed to knock down barriers hindering women’s full participation and leadership, in what she called “our shared mission this year”.

As the fourth woman in UN history to ever preside over the General Assembly, the Organization’s main and most representative deliberative body, María Fernanda Espinosa recognized that women decision-makers must lead by example to safeguard achievements and accelerate progress towards gender equality.

Noting that women have come a long way since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action nearly 25 years ago, she pointed out that they still lag behind on virtually every Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).

“For example, just 42 per cent of countries give women the same rights to land ownership; just 60 per cent give women equal access to financial services”, she flagged. “And the gap is even greater for women in rural areas, women with disabilities, indigenous women and older women”.

Moreover, “no country has achieved full gender equality” and women continue to face discrimination in every region of the world, “from suffocating stereotypes to discriminatory laws, harmful practices and violence”, she maintained.

This runs counter to the “wealth of hard evidence” of the positive impact that “women’s participation and leadership have on economic stability, good governance and investment, including in health, education and social protection.

Child mortality decreases by almost 10 per cent for each additional year of education women of reproductive age have.

“This is just an example of the transformative, society-wide benefits of women’s empowerment”, Ms. Espinosa said. “Today’s discussion is anchored in this crucial link”.

Call for Action

The event, “Gender Equality and Women’s Leadership for a Sustainable World”, issued a ‘Call for Action’ that aligned with the theme of this year’s High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development: ‘Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”. The Forum, the main UN platform monitoring follow-up on States’ actions towards the SDGs, is currently under way in New York.

She invited all leaders to join the global “Call”, which 18 world leaders supported, as new synergies were being explored with other initiatives.

“Many of you will have heard me refer to gender equality as the closest thing we have to a ‘magic formula’ for sustainable development”, she said, noting that while “magical in terms of impact”, there is “nothing magical about how to achieve gender equality”.

The 2030 Agenda and the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action set out what must be done to empower women and girls, and what is needed now are “greater political will; a razor-sharp focus on the most transformative, practical actions; and to widen their scale and impact” according to the Assembly President.

“Today, we find ourselves in urgent need of renewed leadership, partnership and mobilization”, stressed Ms. Espinosa. “It is no secret that some of the SDG targets relating to women’s rights were the subject of tough negotiations… and the landscape has become more challenging even since then”.

She underscored that “we cannot take for granted the gains we have made”. And painted a picture of women on the ground working hard, “under duress and at great personal risk” to push back against a pushback, spelling out that they “need our support”.

“This is our opportunity to recommit to women’s rights and empowerment, to rise to challenges old and new, and – reclaim the agenda”, concluded the Assembly President.

Agents of change

Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told the meeting that women have a strong track record as agents of change.

“From boardrooms to parliament, from military ranks to peace tables and, of course, in the United Nations itself, more women decision-makers mean more inclusive solutions that will benefit everyone”.

Because women understand “intrinsically” the importance of dignity, equality and opportunity for all, the deputy UN chief upheld that “women’s leadership and greater gender balance will lead to unlocking trillions for economies, enhanced bottom lines for the private sector and stronger, more sustainable peace agreements”.

In addition to that, she stressed that “it is critical that we emphasize that women’s equal participation is a basic democratic right”.

For her part, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, said that next year, when we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the implementation of Beijing Platform, “our theme is ‘Generation Equality’ because we are emphasizing the importance of intra-generational participation and the role of young people to take us forward”.

“All of these, drawn together, give us a fighting chance to increase and sustain the participation of women”, she underscored. “We can’t wait people, time is up. Time is really, really up”.

The high-level meeting brought together prominent women leaders from around the globe, including a Mexican Member of Parliament Gabriela Cuevas Barron who is also the president of the Inter Parliamentarian Union and Helen Clark, former head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

UN Women India
While women have come a long way since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action nearly 25 years ago, they still lag behind on virtually every Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).

‘We won’t get to zero cases of Ebola without a big scale-up in funding,’ UN relief chief warns

15 July 2019

Deadly, attacks on health workers in Ebola-hit areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), including one at the weekend that left two dead, are an indication that combating the disease outbreak will require far greater international support, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said on Monday.

Speaking in Geneva, Mr. Lowcock, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, insisted on the need to “be honest with ourselves” on tackling the haemorrhagic disease …unless there’s a big scale-up in the response, we’re unlikely to be successful in getting to zero cases”.

At his side, World Health Organization (WHODirector-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus confirmed the attacks in Beni and the identification – for the first time – of an infected patient in Goma, a city of one million people bordering Rwanda.

 

UNICEF/Vincent Tremeau
A health worker checks a child potentially infected with Ebola being carried on the back of a caregiver at the Ebola Treatment Centre of Beni, North-Kivu province, Democratic Republic of Congo. (24 March 2019)

According to WHO, almost 3,000 health workers have so far been vaccinated against the disease in Goma.

Insisting that he was confident sufficient preventative measures had been put in place, Mr. Tedros announced that he had decided to reconvene an Emergency Committee “as soon as possible to assess the threat of this development and advise me accordingly”.

The two top UN officials were chairing a high-level event on the ourbreak that included the DRC Minister of Health, Dr. Oly Ilunga, the Minister for Solidarity and Humanitarian Action, Bernard Biando Sango, and the Secretary of State for International Development of the United Kingdom, the Rt. Hon. Rory Stewart, as keynote speakers.

More than 2,400 cases of infection, 1,650 deaths

Since the latest Ebola outbreak was officially declared in the eastern DRC provinces of North Kivu and Ituri last August, there have been more than 2,400 confirmed and probable cases and 1,647 deaths, according to latest data from the country’s authorities.

Despite the high toll, the ongoing risk to neighbouring countries – not least Uganda, which has just overcome a recent case of DRC-originating Ebola infection – and reports that the disease has reached the large city of Goma for the first time via an infected pastor, Mr. Lowcock noted that “just a small fraction” of the $2 billion fund to tackle the 2014-16 West Africa Ebola outbreak has been made available to date.

The UN official also credited MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, for facilitating the work of health teams tasked with tracing potential Ebola patients, in areas prone to attack by armed groups, in an appeal for greater political and financial support.

Without this help, Mr. Lowcock warned, Ebola treatment centres risk closing.
It is also likely that there will be fewer teams able to carry out the vital work to “immediately investigate, isolate, treat and trace each new case, no matter where the disease pops up”, he said.

“We have started to get some momentum in former hotspots Butembo and Katwa, but unless we scale up the response we risk losing it,” he added. “The cheapest strategy is to invest fully at this point and to stop the current outbreak rather than to under-invest now and have the outbreak linger over a longer timeframe and possibly spread further geographically.”

Health worker attacks near 200 since January: WHO’s Tedros

Echoing that message, WHO’s Mr. Tedros noted that although the Ebola case in Goma was very concerning, the agency had already vaccinated 3,000 people and ensured that the infected pastor was receiving care.

The deaths of two Ebola responders – “murdered in their home” – brought to almost 200 the number of attacks on health facilities and workers since January, with seven people killed in the violence to date, Mr. Tedros said, noting that every incident “gives Ebola an opportunity to spread..(it) gets a free ride in each and every attack”.

“Just when we start to get control of the virus in one area, it appears in another,” the WHO top official said. “Every attack sets us back. Every attack makes it more difficult to trace contacts, vaccinate and perform safe burials.”

Despite the complexity of the challenge in DRC and the “very high” risk of further spread, the efforts of front-line responders, the Ministry of Health, WHO and partners have been “heroic”, Mr. Tedros said, in reference to the more than 161,000 people vaccinated, 140,000 contacts traced and 71 million travellers screened, at a cost of $250 million “and counting”.

‘Frankly, I am embarrassed to talk only about Ebola’

Outside DRC, moreover, more than 10,000 people have been vaccinated in Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda, he continued, while noting that after several visits to DRC, he had come to realize that it had many more problems to contend with than Ebola.

“I have travelled to North Kivu six times during this outbreak,” he said. “Frankly, I am embarrassed to talk only about Ebola. Together, we will end this outbreak. But unless we address its root causes – the weak health system, the insecurity and the political instability – there will be another outbreak.”