Top United Nations officials Monday marked the World AIDS Day by calling for vigilant efforts to build on earlier successes in the fight against the global epidemic.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed to the many positive steps made in tackling HIV/AIDS, including increased government support for universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support. But "this is just the beginning," he said, adding that "AIDS will not go away any time soon."
In his message for the World AIDS Day, which is marking its 20th anniversary this year, Ban called for sustained leadership and bolstered resources.
"The need to lead, empower and deliver on AIDS is as real and urgent as ever," he said, noting the need to stamp out discrimination that prevents people from seeking treatment.
UN General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto added his voice to those marking the day, noting that the simple facts that 2.5 million people were infected with HIV, which causes AIDS, last year, and another 2.1 million died of AIDS around the world underscore the huge amount of work that remains to be done.
"Let us draw on the deep reservoirs of compassion that are within each of us to sustain our determination to conquer this disease and to care for its many victims," he said. "Let us stand together in this determination and in solidarity."
Echoing the call of the UN leaders for an end to intolerance, Navi Pillay, high commissioner for human rights, said that "27 years after AIDS was first identified, stigma against people living with HIV is as strong as it ever was."
People are driven underground by a combination of punitive laws on the disclosure of HIV status, the criminalization of HIV transmission, and travel bans for people with the disease, she said in a statement.
"Like all people, these groups are entitled to the right to health and the full enjoyment of their human rights even though they may engage in activities that are criminalized in some countries," Pillay said.
"AIDS thrives on injustice and inequality," she said, urging a human rights-based response to prevent infections and mitigate the impact of HIV.
Viewing the issue through the lens of women's rights, Ins Alberdi, executive director of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), appealed for equal treatment for every woman.
"Imagine a world where every woman, young and old, lives without fear or violence, stigma or dispossession if she decides to seek an HIV test, or treat, or support or information," she said.
To make such a world a reality, women's equal access to prevention and care must be ensured, Alberdi said.
In a related development, the UN-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Monday announced that 2 million people living with HIV have received life-saving anti-retroviral treatment, surging over 40 percent over last year's results.
The fund provides almost one quarter of all global resources to fight the disease, and it reported Monday that 62 million HIV counseling and testing sessions have been delivered to people, while 3.2 million AIDS orphans and vulnerable children have received basic care and support.
It also reported successes in its fight against TB and malaria, with the number of people being treated for these two diseases having increased by nearly 40 percent and over 50 percent, respectively.