Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - End AIDS: let’s get this done!

End AIDS: let’s get this done!

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Cambodia’s support for a strong UN political declaration on HIV is vital if the world is to get to the end point after what, by 2030, will be nearly 50 years of the HIV pandemic. Heng Chivoan

End AIDS: let’s get this done!

Public health has dominated the world’s headlines for more than a year. The devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on people’s lives and livelihoods and on economies worldwide has reminded us of the destructive power of a microscopic virus.

In the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world will come together from June 8-10 to set out a bold new agenda to end another pandemic, 40 years after it emerged. At the 2021 UN High-Level Meeting on AIDS, in New York and online, leaders, activists and people living with and affected by HIV will forge a new UN political declaration to set the world on course to end AIDS by 2030.

Huge gains have been made since the first AIDS cases were identified four decades ago. After peaking at 1.7million in 2004, global AIDS-related deaths fell to a little less than 700,000 in 2019. New HIV infections have similarly fallen, from 2.8 million in 1998 to 1.7 million in 2019. And HIV treatment has given hope to millions. What was once a death sentence can now be effectively managed. In June last year, 26 million people were accessing life-saving antiretroviral therapy, a treatment that can give people living with HIV a normal life expectancy.

The HIV pandemic affects different groups in different countries. In Cambodia, it predominantly affects key populations – gay men and other men who have sex with men; female entertainment workers and their clients; transgender people; and people who inject drugs. In other countries, women, especially young women and adolescent girls, bear the brunt. At the heart of it, inequalities are the fuel that drives the HIV pandemic.

Covid-19 has exposed weaknesses in health systems at the global, regional and national levels, but the knowledge, expertise and infrastructure built up over 40 years of the AIDS response have been crucial in guiding a human-rights led, people-centred response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Investing in the global health infrastructure has aided the fight against Covid-19, but we have to do more and strengthen those weaknesses in health systems so that the next time a crisis strikes, the world is ready and able to act.

In March this year, the UNAIDS governing body adopted the Global AIDS Strategy 2021–2026, which aims to close the gaps that are preventing progress to ending AIDS by focusing on the inequalities that drive the pandemic. It aims to promote fairer societies. It sets out targets that if met would place the world firmly back on track to end AIDS by the end of this decade.

Building on the global AIDS strategy, the UN High-Level Meeting on AIDS will endeavour to change the course of the HIV response. The political declaration that will result must be bold and ambitious. With so little time left, it must give the leadership the world needs to set the course for the last few years of the HIV response.

In being bold, the political declaration must ensure that no one is left behind. It needs to give strong support to issues that some may find uncomfortable – comprehensive sexuality education, sexual and reproductive health and rights, the human rights of everyone, including key populations, who are often marginalised and criminalised for their gender identities, sexual orientation, livelihoods or dependencies, or for simply living with HIV.

The new political declaration must be backed up by political commitment. Where promises made in the past have not been met, it’s been in part because the world failed to provide the support needed to build on those promises.

We know that when the right level of investment is made in the HIV response, the money works. Each additional $1 of investment in implementing the global AIDS strategy in low- and middle-income countries will bring a return of $7.37 in health benefits.

Now is the time to reenergise health on the global agenda. Covid-19 is the immediate priority, and with it the vital need to roll out vaccination for everyone, everywhere – the huge inequality in access to vaccination is nothing short of a scandal – but the world must not forget HIV. Cambodia must not forget HIV.

But we should be optimistic. Cambodia has already made great strides in the HIV response. We know how to diagnose and treat HIV. We know how to prevent new HIV infections. We know how to save lives. Cambodia’s support for a strong UN political declaration on HIV is vital if the world is to get to the end point after what, by 2030, will be nearly 50 years of the HIV pandemic.

Now is the time to change the course of the HIV response. Now is the time to put the world on track to end AIDS. Let’s get this done!

Winnie Byanyima is executive director of UNAIDS.


  • Siem Reap drain canal now ‘mangrove’ promenade

    A more than half a kilometre long stretch of canal in Siem Reap has been covered and turned into a promenade to attract visitors, said Ly Rasmey, secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, on September 16. The new pedestrianised

  • Angkor wildlife, aquarium park still to open October

    The Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium complex about 30km southeast of Siem Reap town with initial total investment of more than $70 million is reportedly still on track for an end-October opening. The park is located on a 100ha plot along National Road 6 in Kbon village, Khchas

  • Final verdicts for Khmer Rouge leaders ‘vital’ for next generation

    Nearly a decade after the commencement of Case 002/02 against Khieu Samphan back in 2014, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is now set to deliver its final verdict for the former Khmer Rouge head of state. The Supreme Court Chamber of the ECCC,

  • Defence minister reaffirms Kingdom’s staunch support for One-China policy

    Minister of National Defence General Tea Banh has reaffirmed Cambodia’s unwavering support for the One-China policy. Tea Banh was speaking at the September 20 ceremonial handover of 117 vehicles and other military equipment donated by China’s defence ministry, held at Phnom Chumreay International Military Training

  • Deaths due to ‘lifestyle’ diseases rise in Kingdom

    The Ministry of Health has called on people to pay closer attention to their health to protect themselves from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which it said have caused high rates of deaths in the country. Ministry secretary of state York Sambath made the call at a

  • Textile industry minimum wage now $200

    The official minimum wage for workers in textile-related sectors including garment, footwear, and travel goods for 2023 was pegged at $198, with Prime Minister Hun Sen stepping in to add $2 to the total, making it $200 per month. The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training made the announcement