His Excellency Mr. Festus G. Mogae
President of the Republic of Botswana

at the

Twenty-Sixth Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on HIV/AIDS

New York, 25th June, 2001

 Mr. President,
I wish at the outset to commend the Secretary-General for his strong leadership in the struggle against HIV/AIDS, and in particular the initiative to establish the Global Fund to fight it. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is the most serious global challenge facing humanity at the present time. The convening of a UN Special Session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS is therefore fitting and opportune, but perhaps a little overdue. But if we all act decisively, we can redeem ourselves.

2. HIV/AIDS poses a threat to global security, peace as well as sustained development through reversal of development gains that the world has achieved. If resolute and concerted action is not taken against the spread of HIV/AIDS, the human death toll and suffering that will be inflicted will be catastrophic.

3. Furthermore, if the HIV/AIDS pandemic is not contained, it will accentuate disparities in living standards between developed and developing countries. Developing countries, particularly the poorest, many of which are on the African continent, are also the countries least able to put into effect efficacious strategies to counter the pandemic. This is so because of their lack of human and material resources, under-developed health care systems, lack of health scientific research capability, social security and generally low level of development, which is made worse by low rates of economic growth and declining levels of Official Development Assistance.

4. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is severely limiting development prospects of the affected countries, through loss of skilled human resources, decline in productivity and re-allocation of budgetary and human resources from development activities towards HIV/AIDS related courses. The unchecked spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic therefore poses a serious threat to the goal of the reduction of global poverty by half by the year 2015. Increased disparities in living standards between developed and developing countries are unacceptable.

5. In the global village in which we live today, which is characterised by high mobility of people across countries, no country is safe from the ravages of the pandemic. Therefore, it is in the interest of each and everyone of us to ensure that we do everything in our power to eliminate the spread of HIV/AIDS in the quickest possible time and in the most effective way.

 6. The international community needs to commit substantial financial and other resources to: -
support strengthened HIV/AIDS prevention strategies, especially information, education, communication and counselling, including voluntary counselling and testing;
provide assistance to develop and extend social support systems to deal with the consequences of HIV/AIDS;
support scientific research for AIDS drugs and vaccines;
improve access to anti-retroviral drugs for poor and most affected countries and make the drugs available at affordable prices on sustained basis;
deal decisively with traditional, cultural and religious beliefs and practices that inhibit the fight against HIV/AIDS and, most importantly;
ensure that the fight against HIV/AIDS does not come at the cost of sustainable development and improved living standards for developing nations.

7. In Botswana, the National HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan embodies a multi-sectoral approach and a close working relationship among the public and private sector as well as Non-Governmental Organizations. The implementation of the Plan is overseen by a committed leadership across the broad spectrum of our society. Our key prevention strategies include, house to house counselling, behaviour change targeted at the youth and other vulnerable groups, voluntary counselling and testing as well as prevention of mother to child transmission programmes. A combination of hospitalization and Community Home Based approach is the cornerstone of care for AIDS patients and support to orphans, vulnerable children and affected families. Treatment strategies include pain management and symptomatic treatment as well as prevention and treatment of opportunistic infections. We shall shortly introduce anti-retroviral treatment in our public health facilities to complement all these activities, as part of the strategy for fighting AIDS.

8. I appeal to the international community, NGOs, the private sector, and humanity at large to do all that is necessary to avert the aggravation of human suffering, death and misery that the HIV/AIDS catastrophe brings to many people. Needless to say, substantial resources are necessary to mount an effective fight against the pandemic. This is an urgent matter which calls for immediate action and committed leadership from all of us.

 9. Although not reflected in the film footage of the United Nations system, as it was done by an insignificant African member of the United Nations, at the Millennium Summit I devoted my entire speech to the issue of HIV/AIDS. I am gratified that the Secretary-General and some of his top officials were listening as reflected in their current positions.

10. In this respect, Botswana fully supports the proposal to establish a Global Fund for HIV/AIDS. It is encouraging to note that the United States Government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have already taken the lead by pledging contributions to the Fund. It is important for the Fund to have criteria that will ensure that its resources are used to meet the needs of countries most seriously affected by HIV/AIDS such as Botswana. It would be unjust to exclude countries such as my own on account of per capita income. The Fund should have efficient and flexible rules of operation and mechanisms for the disbursement of the funds and give priority to the most affected countries.

Mr. President,

11. I wish to conclude by stating that without doubt, The challenge of the millennium is to reverse the effects of the pandemic, not only through prevention and care strategies but through meaningfully addressing the structural determinants such as poverty and gender inequality which exacerbate the spread of HIV/AIDS.

12. I appeal to the world community to be innovative, bold and courageous in embracing and respecting this challenge. What is really required of us is a social revolution, a willingness to commit, to share and to prioritise - a social vaccine against harmful, practices and the violation of human rights. We have inner strength in our humanity to win this war. This is my conviction and if nothing else, let us all leave this room with the determination to persist and to give our children a viable future. The time for action is now.

I thank you all.