The United Nations summit on AIDS in New York has set ambitious new targets to defeat the disease but more treatment and better access to drugs is needed quickly if the positive words at the meeting are not going to ring hollow.

That was the view expressed by international aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF – Doctors Without Borders) as UN General Assembly adopted "clear, measurable targets" to tackle the problem by 2015. These include halving sexual transmission of HIV and to reduce the latter among people who inject drugs also by 50%.

The UN also plans to ensure that by 2015, no child will be born with HIV, to increase universal access to antiretroviral therapy, to get 15 million people onto life-saving treatment…and to halve tuberculosis deaths in people living with HIV". Assembly president Joseph Deiss said that "the challenge that now remains is to implement these commitments and here leadership and mutual accountability are crucial".

Member states also pledged to "close the global resource gap for AIDS" and work towards increasing funding to between $22-$24 billion per year by 2015. Some $16 billion was allocated in 2010.

“The momentum we’ve experienced here again confirms the essential role of the UN in the AIDS response,” Paul De Lay, deputy executive director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said. “This meeting intends to bring us to the beginning of the end of AIDS.”

'Astonishing prospect'

The pledge was welcomed by MSF which said it is great news that an ambitious target has been set, "but the world will be holding governments accountable on progress". Reaching that target "would allow to break the back of the epidemic by averting 12 million infections and saving the lives of more than 7 million people" by 2020, an "astonishing prospect [but] now it needs to materialise".

Sharonann Lynch, HIV/AIDS Policy Advisor for MSF’s Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, said that by agreeing to expand HIV treatment to 15 million people in four years, "governments are committing to take the latest science that treatment is prevention and turn it into policies that save lives and can stop the virus”. She added that “the clock starts now – everyday, we need to get more people on treatment than the day before.”

However, MSF notes that funding for AIDS declined in both 2009 and 2010, leaving the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the US government’s PEPFAR and other programmes short of resources. “There are nine million people waiting for HIV treatment today,” said Tido von Schoen-Angerer, head of MSF’s Access Campaign. “This whole AIDS Summit will have been a farce if we don’t see real plans to ramp up treatment so we can get ahead of the wave of new infections.”

The aid agency concluded by noting that "countries also need to ensure that the medicines needed to break the back of the epidemic remain affordable". This means "refraining from pushing policies that drive up prices by imposing ever tighter intellectual property protection", such as free trade agreements negotiated by the USA, the European Union and others with developing countries.

These are creating "further barriers to price-busting generic competition, and threaten access to affordable newer medicines", MSF said.