June 2, 2006

Nations resist new financial commitments on AIDS

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A major U.N. meeting on AIDS
strategy on Friday fell short of concrete financial commitments
but recognized the growing spread of the disease among women
and their right to protect themselves.

Friday's session, the last day of a three-day meeting,
brought together heads of state, prime ministers and health
officials from 151 countries on how to care for 40 million
infected people over the next decade.

Some 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981 and
8,000 die each day of the disease, although the rate of new
cases has slowed. Women in Africa have surpassed men in
contracting the disease.

The final declaration, many activists said, was more
positive than they had predicted. Muslim countries, including
Iraq, Egypt and Pakistan, at one point had resisted commitments
on the rights of women or girls.

Still, some 70 groups among the 800 attending denounced the
declaration as "pathetically weak" on financing and rights for
girls under 18, many of them in forced marriages.

"I know that none of you got all that you wanted in this
declaration," U.N. General Assembly President Jan Eliasson said
in closing the session. But he said thanks to the advocacy
groups, "the draft got stronger -- not weaker."

Although he declaration is non-binding, it serves as a
basis for programs from governments, private groups and

The document says $23 billion will be needed annually by
2010 to fight AIDS, more than double the $8.3 billion spent in
2005. Nations agreed to search for additional resources to
ensure universal access to treatment by 2010.

But delegations did not commit themselves to a timetable
for raising the funds as they did in 2001 when the financial
target was met.

The United States led those objecting to financial goals,
although Washington, the largest spender on AIDS in the
developing world, has set its own targets.


Squeamishness over sex was evident this year as in 2001,
with Islamic groups and conservative Roman Catholic countries
using the term "vulnerable groups" rather than referring to
prostitutes, homosexuals and drug addicts.

"Leadership means finding ways to reach out to all groups
-- whether young people, sex workers, injecting drug users or
men who have sex with men," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan
said several times this week.

"I wish we could have been a bit more frank in our document
about telling the truth," Hilary Benn, Britain's international
development secretary, told the conference.

"Abstinence is fine for those who are able to abstain, but
human beings like to have sex and they should not die because
they do have sex," he said.

Yet the document, in addition to abstinence, advocated male
and female condoms and "harm reduction" efforts related to drug
use, a euphemism for needle exchange programs for addicts.

Just before the session closed, U.S. representative Jason
Lawrence, said that mention in the declaration of "reproductive
health does not create any rights and cannot be interpreted to
constitute support, endorsement or promotion of abortion."

He disassociated the Bush administration from the 1994
Cairo U.N. conference on population that said unsafe abortions
should be treated as a health issue, and that women who have
abortions should not be treated as criminals.

Friday's declaration called for sex education, reproductive
health services and condemned "abuse, rape and other forms of
sexual violence" as well as trafficking in women and girls."

"It seems that the world governments -- including the most
conservative countries -- have finally woken up to the fact
that young people must have access to comprehensive sex
education," said Adrienne Germain, president of the
International Women's Health Coalition.