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AIDS Treatment Resolution Withdrawn At WHO Meeting Because Of US Opposition

Associated Press, Sept. 21, 2006

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- A resolution calling for universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment has been withdrawn from the World Health Organization's Asia-Pacific conference because the United States insisted on changing it, senior officials said Friday.

American officials submitted a series of last-minute amendments to remove expressions of support in the resolution for items such as needle exchange programs for drug addicts, said officials at the meeting in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city.

New Zealand Health Minister Pete Hodgson, who chaired WHO's annual weeklong conference of officials from the Western Pacific region, said the U.S. amendments would have watered down the resolution.

Negotiations failed to resolve differences over the wording.

"So, having ascertained that no resolution would do no damage ... I put it to the meeting that we would be better off to have no resolution than one that was perceived to be weakened," Hodgson told The Associated Press.

U.S. officials at the conference declined to comment.

Hodgson said one of the issues U.S. delegates had sought to change was references to needle exchange programs for intravenous drug users which advocates say help stop the spread of HIV through the sharing of syringes.

The U.S. "position is that if they have needle exchanges then people will use needles more and use intravenous drugs more," Hodgson said. "I think it is demonstrably wrong. New Zealand has had needle swaps for 20 years it has been an amazing success."

WHO's acting regional director, Richard Nesbit, confirmed the resolution had been withdrawn on the last day of the conference after U.S. officials sought changes. He said the U.S. delegation also had issues with spelling out specific high-risk groups such as sex workers, intravenous drug users and men who have sex with men.

"They had been advised by Washington to make a number of changes to the language," Nesbit said, adding that WHO estimates injecting drug users make up more than a third of the region's new HIV cases.

Senior health officials across the region had called on Thursday for universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment and care by 2010.

UNAIDS estimated that 8.3 million people were living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, last year in the Asia-Pacific region including South Asia, Indonesia and Thailand, which are not part of the Western Pacific region. Nearly 85 percent of those infected had no access to anti-retroviral drug treatment, it said.

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