Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Two years ago we issued a Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS here in New York that outlined bold new steps. The UN member states were prepared to take urgent action in order to accelerate and scale up their response to the epidemic. We agreed to move even faster than the Millennium Development Goals called for, towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. Last week we had good news. Almost a third of all people living with AIDS are now receiving antiretroviral therapy. But despite the good news, challenges remain. Two thirds of those who need treatment have no access. And each person receiving treatment needs it for the rest of his or her life.
AIDS also remains a global challenge. In spite of major progress in terms of access to treatment, the growth of the epidemic continues. AIDS is not over. Social drivers in our societies are as hard to deal with as the virus itself. We are facing major obstacles in our efforts to find effective, evidence-based prevention measures. Powerful social and economic forces continue to make women and girls vulnerable. Many countries refuse access to clean needles for drug users. Reproductive and sexual health services are not of an acceptable standard, and are not available to young people. Services are not designed to deal with co-infection. National laws discriminate against persons living with HIV and against key populations that are particularly at risk. Travel restrictions compromise the movement of HIV-positive people across borders, violating their rights and exposing them to risks without having any positive public health benefits.
HIV-positive people continue to be severely stigmatized in most countries of the world. Many of them are sexual minorities, injecting drug users or migrants, which means that they are already stigmatized and discriminated. For example, they may be subject to criminalizing laws that deprive them of their rights to services and security, and expose them to abuse and to HIV.
AIDS is not over yet, not even in a country like Norway. Also in Norway, persons living with HIV face discrimination, both in the workplace and in the health services.
In Norway, people living with HIV are entitled to free treatment and care. Funding for HIV-preventive efforts is available. In 2001 a strategy for the prevention of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases was adopted, the fourth of its kind since 1986. The number of diagnosed HIV-positive people is low and estimated at 0.06% of the population, a third of them women.
We believe that harm reduction strategies are important and these have greatly contributed to the low level of HIV infection among injecting drug users in Norway. However, we have neither managed to halt the underlying drivers of the epidemic, nor combat stigma and discrimination. We are witnessing an ongoing epidemic among men having sex with men. The situation with regard to HIV among injecting drug users is apparently under control, but it is still unpredictable, and we are seeing an increase in HIV transmission among migrants in Norway.
Let me be clear: Norway is not free from discrimination against homosexuals and transsexuals, sex workers and injecting drug users. Lack of concern about and knowledge of HIV, together with attitudes towards people living with HIV, poses a major challenge in the fight against stigma and discrimination. A study recently conducted in Norway shows that there has been little improvement in people’s knowledge and awareness of HIV over the past 20 years and that discriminatory attitudes towards people living with HIV are still widespread. This indicates that there is a lack of knowledge regarding HIV among the general population, and this is unacceptable and requires urgent attention. The Government, in collaboration with civil society and other key actors, is drawing up a new strategic plan to combat discrimination against and stigmatization of people living with HIV.
It is our view that we must continue to combine our national and international efforts in order to change discriminatory legal frameworks and combat discriminatory attitudes and behavior towards people living with HIV in Norway and elsewhere. In this regard, we have established a National Aids Council, co-chaired by the Minister of Health and the Minister of International Development. The Council also includes representatives from civil society. It provides a forum for discussing the challenge of stigma, and the experience gained by actors working with AIDS in international development and Norwegians living with HIV.
We have still a lot to learn together. Now is the time to scale up and target prevention strategies, using effectively what we know works, but also asking new questions and moving forward with better tools and approaches. Knowing your epidemic is essential to acting on the epidemic and turning it around.
This is also the focus for the Norwegian international response, with broad multilateral, bilateral and civil society engagement for making Universal Access a reality. We want to engage as a partner, not just as a donor or a government, because this affects us all. We know that we need to be in this fight for many years to come. Sustained efforts are needed, to prevent HIV infection, to ensure quality treatment for all that need it, to safeguard the life quality of those infected and affected by the virus and to make society responsive. No country and no government can do this alone.
The Norwegian Government has assumed special responsibility for delivering on the health related Millennium Goals, through a global campaign spearheaded by the Norwegian Prime Minister. A major focus is on the need for well-functioning health systems, critical for bringing down child and maternal mortality and also critical for HIV and AIDS.
Scaling up the AIDS response and the response to the Millennium Development Goals must go together for maximum impact. This is a message that we will bring with us into the meetings on the Millennium Development Goals in September this year. But the response to HIV and AIDS is not concluded in 2015. It calls for a new kind of global solidarity for many years to come.
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