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23.06.2009 Health

Annual UN meeting opens with call to ensure HIV services for ‘people on the move’

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22 June - The agency tasked with coordinating the United Nations response to the AIDS epidemic today called for improving HIV information and services for “people on the move,” saying it will help further development and promote human rights.

Addressing the HIV-related needs of the millions uprooted from their homes every year, either by forced displacement or migration, is the focus of the annual meeting of the governing body of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), which began in Geneva today.

Figures by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) indicate that there were 16 million refugees, 26 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to conflict and an additional 25 million displaced due to natural disasters in 2007, while the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates there were over 200 million international migrants in 2008.

Meeting the needs of people on the move for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support is essential for achieving universal access, UNAIDS noted in a news release.

The agency said that populations on the move are sometimes blamed for the spread of HIV, or for increasing the burden on limited services for people living with HIV. However, many of the underlying factors driving mobility also increase the vulnerability of this group to HIV infection.

In addition, those among this group living with HIV and those taking antiretroviral medication face additional challenges in obtaining needed care and treatment.

It is critical to address the needs of those who 'fall between the cracks' in national AIDS strategies, and in global discussions of forced displacement, migration and travel, the agency said.

Among the specific issues of concern being discussed at the three-day UNAIDS meeting are human rights, especially in connection with access to services, as well as stigma and discrimination against persons living with HIV.

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