26th Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on



Hon. Frixos Savvides,
Minister of Health of the Republic of Cyprus

New York, 27 June 2001

Mr President, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

Humankind is facing one of the worst health crises in its history. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has left no corner of the world untouched, and is already affecting progress and development in many countries, challenging development goals, as well as most of the socio-economic achievements of recent decades.

The countries most affected have found themselves in a state of emergency, requiring urgent measures for the reversal of the spread of the epidemic and its disastrous impact on social and economic stability, food security and the life expectancy of their populations. Communities with weak economies are hit hardest and are gradually deprived by the epidemic of the very means which are needed for effective responses against it.

The countries least affected by HIV/AIDS nonetheless face the risk of sudden and dramatic bursts of the epidemic, especially among the high risk groups and people suffering from the effects of armed conflict, violence and sexual exploitation. Many women, even in societies with institutionally protected human rights, are often placed in situations of vulnerability, regarding their sexual safety and freedom of choice.

The global nature of the epidemic calls for urgent and concerted action that will bring together all the resources needed for an effective response, since no country can bring about the necessary changes alone. International support, solidarity and cooperation are paramount, not only on humanitarian grounds, but also in the effort to win the battle against this challenge to global prosperity and development.

We consider the role of the United Nations as central to the efforts at countering the scourge of the HIV/AIDS. In this respect we salute the Secretary General for his determination to make this issue a priority, in order to direct all of us into effective action. We welcome United Nations efforts to implement policies regarding its own personnel that would safeguard them from this terrible disease. We agree with the Federation of International Civil Servants Association on the need for the UN personnel policy on HIV/AIDS to be strictly enforced to ensure that the following key principles are applied consistently to all staff in the UN workplace: an environment free from fear of discrimination, respect for confidentiality, access to accurate and up-to-date information about HIV/AIDS, education and training programmes, quality care and treatment provided at the country level, adequate insurance coverage and disability and death benefits. Where appropriate medications are not available locally, they must be supplied to staff members through the UN Medical Service.

Mr. President,

Cyprus has faced the HIV/AIDS problem since 1986 but remains a low prevalence country. The main modes of transmission are homosexual and heterosexual intercourse, with a very small proportion of people diagnosed with HIV being women, minimal risks for perinatal transmission and for transmission through blood and, for the moment, very low rates among drug users.

The epidemic has been addressed as a priority issue since the first AIDS case was reported, through the development of the initial strategic plan in cooperation with the World Health Organization and the establishment of a National AIDS Committee with the participation of representatives from all relevant government departments, private enterprise and civil society. Financing and funding mechanisms were rapidly put into place to support people infected with HIV and to implement educational campaigns among the population and groups with special risk.

Medical treatment, hospital care, laboratory testing and counselling have been offered free of charge since the beginning of the epidemic, including the most advanced combination of treatments. Blood safety has been ensured from the start, through universal screening for HIV and other pathogens, the promotion of voluntary, non remunerated blood donation and the rational use of blood.

Though encouraging, these facts do not warrant complacency or a relaxing of measures to tackle the epidemic, since factors such as risky sexual behaviour and increasing use of drugs are known to exist from everyday experience and from the results of behavioural studies.

The situation is being monitored through routine and sentinel surveillance, as well as studies related to behaviour, among several groups of the population.

The basic principles that have guided all our efforts so far, which relate to prevention of the transmission of the virus through sexual intercourse, perinatally and through blood, as well as to the social support of those affected and infected with HIV and AIDS, will be the mainstay of the Third Medium Term Plan, currently under preparation.

Special attention will be given to the protection of the most vulnerable groups, with strengthened measures for the prevention of the transmission of the virus through the use of intravenous drugs, the development of a gender management system in the health sector, the promotion of the sexual and reproductive health of men and women alike, integration of the gender perspective in all health-related sectors of the economy and the development of non discriminatory and protective legislation for those affected or at special risk for HIV/AIDS and for society at large.

In addition, appropriate health education programmes will be further developed for groups considered to be at high risk, as well as students and young army recruits. Existing services for treatment, counselling and socio-economic support in relation to HIV/AIDS and the infrastructure for the development of epidemiological and behavioural research in relation to AIDS and sex are in the process of being strengthened.

Time-bound targets set by the Declaration of Commitment to be adopted at this Special Session for effective prevention, comprehensive care strategies, the promotion of respect for human rights, the reduction of vulnerability, support for deprived and marginalized groups, the alleviation of the social and economic impact of the epidemic and support for research and development through the building of effective infrastructures, will be strictly respected and actively promoted by Cyprus.

Mr. President,

Cyprus welcomes all international efforts in the direction of effective action in dealing with this global problem. We salute the Secretary-General's initiative for the creation of the Special Fund and welcome the commitment by developed countries to support it, particularly the European Union's commitment with whose statement Cyprus has aligned itself. We have no doubt, especially after having heard the statement by US Secretary of State Powel, expressing the commitment of the United States to continue playing a leading role in this effort, that the battle can and will be won. In this respect and along these lines, Cyprus commits itself to support all international efforts to face the challenge of achieving a planet free of the HIV virus.

Thank you Mr President.