My takeaway from the HLM
So, what did I learn at the UN High Level Meeting on AIDS?
Above all, I re-learned that human rights are fundamental or inalienable: they cannot be repealed or restrained by national laws or customs.
I re-learned that health is a human right.
Health for all – universal health coverage - has precedence over profits and intellectual property. In one of the final side meetings of the HLM, the issue of ‘balancing’ health and intellectual property rights was raised. Celso Amorim, a Brazilian diplomat, pointed out that it is not a matter of balancing: health has precedence. He referred to the DOHA Agreement as clarifying that. He emphasised that resolving the problems of access to health and medicines would not be reached via trade negotiations but ultimately via recourse to the UN Human Rights Council. Judit Ruis, MSF Access Manager, also echoed the idea that since the current systems of innovation were created by governments, it is governments that need to fix the broken elements of that system. And, yes, in prioritising access we must find a way to ensure that innovation continues to thrive for the good of future generations, as Andrew Witty, CEO of GSK, pointed out. The bottom line is, however, that unless we prioritise human rights over intellectual property we will not achieve our urgent 2020 targets and then definitely not our 2030 targets.
Health for all has precedence over cultural beliefs. This truth is clearly under attack at the UN: there are Member States that seem to believe that cultural beliefs can justify denial of access to health for all citizens. These States insist on using their cultural beliefs to justify not listening to and learning about the health needs of certain citizens, not developing targeted programs to meet those citizens who may be most vulnerable, not applying evidence-based interventions, not going beyond business as usual. The bottom line is, however, that unless these States revolutionise their ways in the next 5 years, taking seriously the health needs of all of their citizens and applying evidence-based science, there is no way that 2030 will mark the end of AIDS as a public health threat.
And, the last thing I re-learned was that funding the end of AIDS is still the elephant in the room! That is not to say that the broad financial targets have not been stated. We know what is needed, what international donors need to contribute, what needs to come from domestic sources, how much is needed to replenish the Global Fund, how much needs to be spent on civil society and community-based responses. What is not clear is how we will track these commitments, how we will ensure they are met, and especially how we will create an early enough warning system so that we don’t get behind any funding gaps in the narrow fast-track window to 2020.