Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao speaks during a UN panel on anti-AIDS efforts at UN headquarters in New York, September 22, 2010. [Photo/Xinhua]
In a high-level meeting with world leaders from African nations including Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa, Premier Wen Jiabao Wednesday announced an Africa-China partnership to strengthen international AIDS prevention and treatment efforts.
Citing a worldwide population of 13 million currently living with HIV, Wen stressed the urgency of ramping up efforts in the remaining five years before the stated 2015 goal date in attaining Millennium Development Goals.
"We can not turn a deaf ear," Wen said to the gathered assembly. "We should redouble our efforts to advance the global campaign against HIV/AIDS, and ensure that the related MDG be met on schedule."
Emphasizing "synergy" and cooperative development initiatives, various leaders spoke about improvements that have occurred worldwide, but also listed sobering statistics that underscored the importance of renewing efforts against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
"To fight against HIV/AIDS is the common responsibility of mankind," Wen said. "The international community needs to foster a spirit of solidarity and assistance, and intensify cooperation and AIDS control. Developed countries should honor their commitments and provide necessary technical and financial assistance, and developing countries should draw upon successful international practices."
The World Health Organization plans to step up coordination and mobilize resources, and countries including Senegal, Namibia, Togo and Kenya all reaffirmed their commitment to tackle Goal 6, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
"The era of health and development programs operating in isolation is over," said Michel Sidibe, UNAIDS Executive Director. "We have to work together to make this one movement. The Africa-China partnership can be the engine that accelerates progress towards the MDGs."
Wen assured the assembly that China views the campaign against HIV/AIDS as a high priority. "The Chinese government attaches great importance to AIDS prevention and treatment," he said. "It's been a tough, protracted battle."
According to UNAIDS statistics, an estimated 700,000 Chinese have HIV, with 85,000 suffering from full-blown AIDS. An approximate 50,000 new infections and 20,000 deaths were reported in 2007 alone.
While China has made noticeable achievements in MDG Goal 1 on poverty reduction, "the only MDG where China seems to be having any problems is with Goal 6," Sidibe said in an interview with China Daily.
Among major challenges faced in China are a lack of information, a growing instance of AIDS in the homosexual community, and mother-to-child transmission.
Ilana Berger with Health GAP, an AIDS-awareness NGO, pointed to findings by the China Stigma Index, a 2009 study which showed that knowledge about AIDS was still weak overall, and that many HIV-positive Chinese still experienced significant discrimination, both in society and at the hands of service providers.
Despite these obstacles, Wen said that he is confident China will meet the MDG on AIDS by 2015. He listed dropping mortality rates and various government-led initiatives including 2-5 year action plans, a change in policy toward blood transfusions, and a jump in government AIDS funding within China to 6.2 billion yuan this year and a planned contribution of $14 million to the international community over the next three years.
The government is also working to provide free voluntary testing and consulting, free schooling for children orphaned by AIDS and free medication for ever more patients. Sidibe cited major moves in the last decade that have seen AIDS prevention in China jump from virtually zero to being the largest harm-reduction program in Asia.
China is also taking a proactive attitude toward the homosexual community by identifying gay meeting places and distributing information and condoms, he said.
"China is developing new strategies in this area," Sidibe said.
"Instead of criminalizing activity that might push the gay population underground, China is doing the opposite by targeting hot spot areas and making information and protection available. This is very interesting."
At the panel Wen and other leaders spoke about the importance of viewing AIDS as interconnected with the other Millennium Development Goals, including poverty, maternal health and gender inequality.
UN Deputy Secretary General Asha - Rose Migiro listed the benefits of AIDS prevention and treatment as including poverty reduction and lower rates of student dropouts.
Improving AIDS rates would also reduce both child and maternal mortality, Sidibe said. AIDS can also be linked with sexual violence, gender inequality, unwanted births and unsafe abortions.
"AIDS is a core issue of MDG," Sidibe said. "We should not treat AIDS as an isolated phenomenon. It needs to be a bridge-builder between all these different issues. China is not just in the new debate as a developing country, but as a developing country that has know-how to connect other developing countries with technology and innovation to help democratize and problem solve."
He believes that China will lead the way with innovative technology.
"We need to make a breakthrough in low-cost technology, and we are strongly convinced that China can be a force for innovation," he said. "We believe that China can really help with technology, drugs and vaccines. The goal is to make tools that can be owned by billions of people, not just only by minority of people who have money."
He listed reports that Chinese companies are already working on lowering the costs of AIDS medications as welcome news, and reiterated the importance of international cooperation.
"Never has the path to our 2015 goals been more clear," said UN Deputy Secretary- General Migiro in her remarks at the panel. "We need an innovative course of action that brings AIDS out of isolation and into a more dynamic circle of inclusion, forged on a common sense vision. In this room we have leaders with the political clout to make things happen. AIDS plus MDG’s equal better lives for all."