Feature story

‘Investments in AIDS must be maintained’: UNAIDS Executive Director at end of Australia visit

31 August 2010

Michel Sidibé
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé and Director-General of Australia’s AID Program (AusAID) Peter Baxter in Canberra. Credit: Australian Department of Health and Ageing

Concluding his first official visit to Australia, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé stressed the need for the international community to mobilize an additional US $10 billion to meet country-set targets for universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

Just weeks before the upcoming replenishment meeting of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Mr Sidibé discussed sustaining and enhancing investments in AIDS with the Director-General of Australia’s AID Program (AusAID) Peter Baxter in the capital Canberra.

“There are currently 10 million people living with HIV who are waiting for life-saving treatment. Unless we close the funding gap, millions of people will be turned away from the promise of universal access,” said Mr. Sidibé during the bilateral.

The Executive Director thanked Mr. Baxter for AusAID’s support to the HIV response, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, and its recent commitment to increase funding to UNAIDS by almost US $900 000. However, he also expressed his concerns that after steady and significant increases in HIV investments, other donors might for the first time flat-line or even reduce funding.

In Canberra, Mr. Sidibé also met with the Secretary of the Department of Health and Ageing, Jane Halton, and the Deputy Director-General of the Office of National Assessments, Bruce Miller.

Mr Sidibé’s five-day trip to Australia began in Sydney at the Lowy Institute for International Policy where he spoke on the state of the epidemic and imperatives for reshaping the global AIDS response. In Sydney, he visited the renowned medically supervised injecting centre in Kings Cross, the only such facility in the Southern Hemisphere. He commended the facility’s work, calling it a ''pragmatic, cost-effective'' model to halt HIV transmission and prevent illness and death among the most vulnerable intravenous drug users in New South Wales.

Mr. Sidibé was presented with an award from a coalition of organizations involved in Australia’s HIV response that recognized his personal contribution to overcoming the AIDS response.

Michel Sidibé and Jane Halton Jane Halton PSM, the Secretary of the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, and UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé in Canberra. Credit: Australian Department of Health and Ageing

In Melbourne, the Executive Director delivered the keynote address at the 63rd UN DPI/NGO conference. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon opened the health-themed conference with a video message in which he underscored the many gains made in global health, including greater access to HIV treatment. But he cautioned delegates stating “We still have some distance to go. Meeting our commitments on health is central to meeting all of the Millennium Development Goals.”

Following the UN DPI/NGO conference – the largest UN event ever held in Australia – Mr. Sidibé joined the launch of the Michael Kirby Centre for Public Health and Human Rights. This new research centre, which focuses on the link between human rights and public health, is a collaborative venture between scientists, lawyers, medical practitioners and academics at the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University. Former Justice of the High Court of Australia, Michael Kirby is a renowned human rights expert and was recently appointed to the new Global Commission on HIV and the Law.

Also in Melbourne, Mr. Sidibé met with Australian business leaders at the Asia Pacific Business Coalition on AIDS (APBCA), which is leading the region's private sector response to HIV. He congratulated the business coalition for its engagement and encouraged even greater involvement of Australia’s dynamic private sector in delivering innovative solutions to respond to HIV across the region.

The Executive Director visited the HIV research laboratory of the Burnet Institute, Australia's largest virology and communicable disease research institute. Professor Sharon Lewin showcased the Institute’s cutting-edge research on low-cost laboratory diagnostic tools and the eradication of HIV reservoirs among people living with HIV.

Mr. Sidibé will conclude his Asia-Pacific tour in Japan where he will meet with Japanese Government officials and business leaders in Tokyo.