The Organization of American States (OAS) - the world's oldest regional mechanism comprising 35 independent states of the Americas - has adopted a bold new Resolution on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights of People Vulnerable to or Living With or Affected by HIV.
Meeting at its 43rd General Assembly, delegates approved the Resolution which puts human rights, gender equality and social justice at the heart of the region's HIV response. The new agreement emphasizes the importance of the greater involvement and participation of the most affected populations in the response to the epidemic.
In spite of progress addressing HIV in the region - treatment coverage is high, and new HIV infections have begun to decline in parts of the Caribbean - the Resolution recognizes the still significant challenges that remain to ensure equitable access to HIV services, particularly among most at risk groups as well as women and girls.
Opening the Assembly, Secretary General of the OAS, Jose Miguel Insulza noted the frequent 'disregard' of the rights of minorities but highlighted the critical opportunity the OAS provides "for frank, open policy dialogue on these issues in the Hemisphere".
Deeply rooted stigma and discrimination is still all too pervasive among community and religious leaders, service providers and state agents. This impedes access to services, employment, and in some cases, leads to social exclusion for people most vulnerable to HIV, including sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people, drug users and indigenous populations. The Resolution calls for specific measures to promote gender equality and address the needs of women, adolescents and girls, noting the strong inter-relation between gender-based violence as both a cause and consequence of HIV.
As discussions continue globally around the sustainability of the AIDS response, the Resolution flags the 'exorbitant' cost of antiretroviral treatment in some countries and the challenge of securing generic alternatives. Furthermore, despite increases in domestic funding for the AIDS response, the Resolution notes that resources are still not being sufficiently invested in programmes that support and sustain education, behavior change and other HIV prevention strategies.
The Resolution looks at ways to strengthen collaboration with international bodies such as the Inter-American Commission on Women and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to advocate for greater protective laws and policies. These include the exchange of experiences and best practices, the organization of joint activities, and the coordination of efforts and capacities to attain the greatest possible impact.
OAS Member States called upon UNAIDS and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to join efforts in the implementation of the Resolution as well as to provide countries with support to eliminate new HIV infections among children, to ensure access to affordable treatment, to end stigma and discrimination and to promote gender equality.
"This Resolution comes at an opportune time, when global discussions on development and health are shifting, but also demonstrates that new opportunities are emerging to maintain the momentum to reach UNAIDS vision of zero discrimination, zero new HIV infections, and zero AIDS-related deaths," said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé.
Mr Sidibé met with Secretary General Insulza in Washington DC, prior to the OAS General Assembly where he remarked that "The OAS has been a leader in driving forth discussions around affordable medicines, and is breaking new ground in terms of addressing stigma and discrimination, and recognizing the intersection between gender-based violence and HIV".