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International Day of the
World's Indigenous People, 9 August

Message from the President of the General Assembly

When the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the International Day of the World's Indigenous People in 1994, we intended to send a clear and strong message that indigenous peoples’ human rights must be recognized and respected. Then, as today, we must press to end to their marginalization, their extreme poverty, the expropriation of their traditional lands and the other grave human rights abuses that so many of the 370 million indigenous people around the world continue to endure.

Too many indigenous peoples live today as marginalized minorities in conditions of poverty and powerlessness, conditions favourable to HIV transmission. Their isolation makes them harder to reach for HIV prevention and care. As in many communities, indigenous or otherwise, women and children are especially vulnerable to exploitation and, in turn, to the risk of HIV infection. For many reasons, marginalization is particularly relevant when considering HIV risks.

Our human diversity, a characteristic that we must come to cherish and sustain, demands that we recognize that communities have their own values and practices. It is within this context that we must orient our search for effective ways of reducing the impact of the HIV epidemic. Indigenous peoples have a holistic view of health that includes physical, social, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions.

All of these need to be considered and emphasized as a basis for identifying effective approaches to indigenous peoples’ health. Therefore, health and social programmes for indigenous peoples should be culturally based on an understanding of the culture, practices and beliefs of each indigenous community. Traditional healers, for example, often play a central role in many indigenous communities and shape their understanding about health and wellness.

Another problem affecting indigenous peoples is the lack of HIV/AIDS data collection in their communities. Every day world wide, nearly 7,500 people become infected with HIV and 5,500 die from AIDS, mostly due to a lack of HIV prevention and treatment services.

Still, the growing availability of treatment for HIV/AIDS, while very limited, is beginning to counter these staggering numbers.

We must ensure that the collection and analysis of information regarding indigenous peoples living with HIV/AIDS is comprehensive. This work must be carried out in a manner that is respectful of the needs of indigenous peoples as identified by indigenous peoples themselves and reflected in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Millennium Development Goals present an opportunity to improve prevention programmes and ensure that indigenous issues are considered in the strategies and action plans. Indigenous issues cut across all aspects of HIV prevention and care. I call on Member States, indigenous peoples, the UN system and all relevant actors to work in solidarity to guarantee that the voices of indigenous peoples are heard and that they participate in the decision-making processes in every country. This will help to ensure that we determine the number of indigenous people living with HIV, and help them gain access – eventually universal access – to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it.

Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann