The Arab region is breaking new ground in its actions on HIV and AIDS. “The increasing number of HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths indicate the importance of developing a clear roadmap for the Arab region with achievable goals” said Dr. Ziad Memish, Deputy Minister for Public Health of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He pledged the commitment of Saudi Arabia to continue its leadership in the development of the Arab AIDS Initiative, launched by the Arab Ministers of Health in October 2011, to scale up the HIV response at regional and national levels to achieve the targets set in the 2011 United Nations Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS.
At a meeting convened by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, under the auspices of the League of Arab States and supported by UNAIDS, governmental and non-governmental representatives recognized the need for urgent action as MENA is one of only two regions where the epidemic continues to grow. While overall numbers may be relatively low, estimates from the UNAIDS Global Report released in November 2012 indicate an increase in new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths in MENA region. Since 2001 the number of people newly infected with HIV has increased by more than 35%, with a significant increase in AIDS-related deaths. The report also shows that despite a doubling of the number of people accessing HIV treatment in the region between 2009 and 2011, coverage of HIV treatment remains very low, at 15%.
Participants agreed that the guiding principles for the development of the Arab AIDS Strategy should include; evidence based and rights based; people centered; multi-sectoral; integrated; and gender and youth sensitive. The strategy should recognize and leverage the diversity of HIV situations and responses in the region.
“AIDS is not only a health issue, but a social and developmental issue that demands a coordinated evidence-based response” said Dr. Laila Negm, Director of the Health and Humanitarian Aid Department, League of Arab States. She emphasised the need for political mobilisation to address prevention, treatment, and stigma and discrimination and said that the region would count on the continued support of UNAIDS to move the Strategy forward.
“There is a window of opportunity for the region to demonstrate that it can be among the first to end AIDS, and leverage the AIDS response for broader health, human rights and development outcomes” said Ms. Jan Beagle, Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS.