As UNGASS +5 winds down, a coalition of over 70 civil society organizations from around the world are denouncing the meeting as a significant step back in the global fight against AIDS. The 2006 Declaration, which will be ratified by the General Assembly this afternoon, “recognizes” that $20-23 billion are needed per year, but fails to set hard targets for funding, treatment, care or prevention. Moreover, the document euphemistically refers to “vulnerable groups” but refuses to name them.

“Vulnerable groups such as intravenous drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men have been made invisible in this document,” said Aditi Sharma of ActionAid International.

African activists in particular are irate that their governments retreated from specific targets on treatment (reaching 80% by 2010) that were agreed to at the Abuja Summit in Nigeria just three weeks ago. South Africa and Egypt are both signatories to the Abuja Declaration, but they — along with the U.S. — worked behind the scenes to eliminate funding and treatment targets. “The final outcome document is pathetically weak. It is remarkable at this stage in the global epidemic that governments cannot set the much needed targets,” said Sisonke Msimang of the African Civil Society Coalition.

The 2006 declaration does, however, note the “feminisation of the pandemic,” promotes the “empowerment of women,” and mentions “male and female condoms” and “harm-reduction efforts related to drug use” — all points of contention in earlier drafts.

Earlier in the day First Lady Laura Bush addressed the UN briefly. Bush said that “more people need to know how AIDS is transmitted, and every country has an obligation to educate its citizens.” Bush then praised her husband’s PEPFAR program for providing treatment and prevention to developing nations. But several activists I spoke to bristled at what they see as “hypocrisy” from the First Lady. For example, the U.S. requires a “loyalty oath” from AIDS grantees opposing prostitution — thus making it effectively impossible to educate sex workers on HIV transmission. Today’s NYT editorial rightly praised two recent court decisions that struck down this requirement for U.S.-based groups, but failed to note that this global gag rule on prostitution still applies to subgrantees in other countries.