Press Release

Fifty-eighth General Assembly

Interactive Panel (PM)



With the international community facing sobering evidence that global goals aimed at turning back the HIV/AIDS epidemic might not be met, the President of the General Assembly today brought together heads of State, United Nations experts and AIDS activists to talk honestly about the disease, the lives of its victims and hope for the future.

Opening the interactive panel, held in conjunction with today’s high-level General Assembly follow-up to its 2001 special session on HIV/AIDS, Assembly President Julian Robert Hunte (Saint Lucia), said the dialogue could help underpin the strategies adopted by the international community to counter the disastrous impact of the disease.

Chairing the panel, Secretary-General Kofi Annan underscored the importance of keeping HIV/AIDS at the top of political and practical agendas.  He said the three essential components of achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015, would be found in unprecedented levels of support for combating stigma and discrimination –- by speaking clearly and openly -- working with partners from civil society and resource mobilization on a scale far greater than yet achieved.  If those challenges were not squarely faced, the goal will not be met –- and that will put other goals at risk.

“Stigma kills”, said Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  The international community had been in denial, and, hoping the disease would “go away”, had refused to speak openly about HIV/AIDS.  Yet far from being “pariahs”, those suffering from AIDS had a right to acceptance and compassion.  They were “not just statistics, but people of flesh and blood, who are our sisters and brothers”.

Stressing that, at the political level, it was virtually impossible to talk about HIV/AIDS and its victims, President Jorge Sampaio of Portugal said the disease presented one of the greatest leadership challenges of the day.  Thus, in the face of a dramatic epidemic, the overriding priority for all leaders should be to bring the issue to the political forefront.

Kim Nichols, of the Non-Governmental Organization Coordinating Board for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the Global Fund Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said that from civil society’s point of view, a “disabling” environment continued to dominate when it came to HIV/AIDS policy.  For instance, those suffering from the disease were still 100 times more likely to receive palliative care than anti-retroviral treatment.  She added that non-governmental organizations must be given the opportunity to become fully funded national partners in combating HIV/AIDS.  It was also imperative that the Group of 7 industrial countries authorize the full $10 billion proposed to effectively wage the war against HIV/AIDS.

After reviewing conventional methods for resource mobilization such as bilateral flows, pledges to the Global Fund and private sector contributions, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo stressed the need to consider innovative funding strategies.  One Nigerian proposal was the concept of a “debt swap” for HIV/AIDS and wider health objectives.  That would bolster treatment efforts and allow countries to focus on areas of particular concern.

Dr. Richard Feacham, Executive Director of the Global Fund, said the Fund had received $4.7 billion in pledges, commending the United States and France for bringing it to that level.  The Fund currently supported 155 programmes in 95 countries and would expand to 220 programmes in 114, following an upcoming meeting of its Board of Directors in Thailand.

Yet, meeting the financial needs of all the high-quality proposals it received would require more contributions, he said, as well as innovative financing mechanisms, such as the “debt swap” and the possibility of liberating a proportion of unspent European development aid to be channelled into prevention and treatment programmes.  The year 2003, he said, would be viewed historically as the year in which the counterattack against HIV/AIDS was begun.

Summarizing the main points of the afternoon’s discussion, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said it was clear that HIV/AIDS presented one of the greatest leadership challenges of the times.  Although inspiring, the level of participation at today’s panel had not been universal.  Peer pressure among heads of State was needed.  There was empirical evidence that success against the epidemic was possible.  Thus, at the closing of the session, it appeared that “the constellations are finally starting to align”.  In that could be found a reason for mild optimism.

Also participating in this afternoon’s dialogue were the Presidents of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Borik Trajkovski, as well as the Prime Ministers of Canada, Jean Chrétien, Barbados, Owen S. Arthur, and Tuvalu, Saufatu Sopoanga.  The Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine, Dmytro Tabachnyk, also spoke.

Representing civil society was Tarun Das, Director-General of the Confederation of Indian Industry, as well as two regional representatives, Dr. Ruben Mayorga from Latin America and the Caribbean and Bakiono Bagnomboe of Burkina Faso.

The new Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Lee Jong-Wook, also spoke.

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