Feature story

ASEAN Summit Special Session on AIDS

13 January 2007

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Photo credit: J.Carual-PCPO

“AIDS is not a passing storm but a long-run threat to development and national security in Asia,” UNAIDS reported at the ‘Special Session on HIV/AIDS’, held as part of the 12 th Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit on Saturday 13 January.

The special report from UNAIDS Executive Director Dr Peter Piot on the state of AIDS epidemics globally, in the ASEAN region, and the challenges faced by countries was considered by the Heads of State from 10 ASEAN countries at their extraordinary session on AIDS. This is the first time an external body has been invited to brief the Heads of State Summit on AIDS.

Asia has the second largest number of people living with HIV in the world and its share of the global epidemic is increasing. According to latest estimates, the ASEAN region – which includes Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam -shows the most severe epidemics within Asia. In 2006, there were an estimated 1.6 million people living with HIV in the ASEAN region and in some countries up to 1.5% of all adults are living with HIV.

“We are still in the early phases of the epidemic in Asia and must redouble and sustain efforts, not let our guard down,” the UNAIDS report said. “The most worrying fact for the ASEAN countries is that AIDS affects the most productive sections of ASEAN populations, i.e. the workforce which is the powerhouse of economic development of the region,” the report noted.

Underlining AIDS as ‘one of the make-or-break challenges of our time’, the UNAIDS report outlined the threat AIDS poses in the region to the achievement nearly all the Millennium Development Goals. However UNAIDS stressed there are opportunities to put in place a long term response to the epidemic.

The meaningful involvement of community based and civil society organizations – especially people living with HIV – into national AIDS responses must also be a priority. The importance of personal leadership from the Heads of State on AIDS was underlined. “The threat of AIDS will not pass in a year or five years. [UNAIDS] and the world look to you for your continued leadership on AIDS,” the report stated.

The report outlined how a number of countries in the region have made significant progress in ensuring that the most vulnerable communities, including young people, sex workers and their clients, men who have sex with men and injecting drug users, are getting priority in national AIDS responses. In the short-term, increase in scale and size of such programmes focused to reach people most at risk in the region is urgently needed. At the same time programmes need to take into consideration the drivers of epidemics within countries such as gender inequality, homophobia and HIV-related stigma.

The 2007 ASEAN Special Session on AIDS was held in response to the resolution passed at the 7th ASEAN Summit held in Brunei Darussalam in November 2001 where the ASEAN Heads of State and Government agreed to convene the “Special Session on HIV and AIDS” in conjunction with the 12th ASEAN Summit in 2007, to signal ASEAN’s commitment in combating AIDS and to give impetus to regional responses in taking urgent action.

Representing UNAIDS Executive Director Dr Peter Piot, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Deborah Landey attended the ASEAN Summit and observed the Special Session.

Following the Special Session, the ASEAN Heads of State are due to adopt a Declaration on AIDS, affirming their commitment to prioritize, lead and strengthen national AIDS programmes ensuring policies and programmes respond to the people most at risk and most in need within the region. “[This Declaration] will form part of the permanent history and lexicon of ASEAN,” said ASEAN Spokesperson, Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Victoriano Lecaros.

As part of the Special Session, the Secretary-General of ASEAN, Mr Ong Keng Yong delivered his own report to the Heads of State in Cebu. In his report, the ASEAN Secretary-General observed that “commitment of the leadership and political will are key in addressing challenges posed by the spread of HIV and AIDS”. Secretary-General Ong reported to the ASEAN Leaders on progress made since 2001. Mr Ong also outlined key points of action over 2006-10 through an operational work plan for ASEAN’s third regional programme on HIV and AIDS.

“Future ASEAN responses would involve multi-sector initiatives, and closer partnerships with the private sector, civil society, and people living with HIV,” he said. He highlighted the main elements in the Declaration on AIDS, drawing attention to the “commitment on integration of HIV with development priorities to reduce both the impact of development on HIV transmission, and the impact of the HIV epidemic on development, consistent with ASEAN’s commitments to the Millennium Development Goals and the 2006 UN General Assembly decision”.



Links:

Read ASEAN Commitments on AIDS
Read UNAIDS press release ‘Decisive leadership urged for long-term response to AIDS in Southeast Asia’ ( enfresru )
Read UNAIDS Executive Director’s report to the ASEAN Heads of State
Visit the web site of the 12th ASEAN Summit
Visit the ASEAN Secretariat web site
Facts and figures on AIDS in the ASEAN region

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