DR. ABDULMEJID HUSSEIN
OF THE FEDERAL DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF ETHIOPIA TO THE UNITED NATIONS AND HEAD OF DELEGATION
AT THE TWENTY-SIXTH
SPECIAL SESSION OF THE
UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY ON HIV/AIDS
UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK
27 JUNE 2001
I would also like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Secretary General Mr. Kofi Annan, for his commendable leadership in Combating AIDS in Africa.
My delegation's appreciation also goes to the facilitators and UNAIDS for their relentless efforts in the preparatory process for the session. It's my sincere hope that this session will be a landmark for securing global commitments and resources to address this global crisis.
Although AIDS exist in every part of the world, Africa, and in particular sub-Saharan Africa, is the hardest hit. By now we are too familiar with the AIDS statistics affecting Africa.
My country, a member of this sub-region, is also bearing the brunt of this terrible disease. The impact of the epidemic on the economic and social sector is severe.
In response to the AIDS epidemic, my Government, with its limited financial and trained human power capacity, had taken several measures to address it. Anti-AIDS campaign were launched in various governmental sectoral ministries and other parastatals; the mass-media has played an important role in raising public awareness on the importance of behavioral change in the struggle against AIDS,. and anti-AIDS Clubs have been established in schools to sensitize the youth. A national HIV/AIDS policy was issued in 1998 with the overall objective to provide an enabling environment for the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS in the country. In order to effectively implement this policy, the National AIDS Council involving various governmental departments, NGOs as well as various public and private sectors of society, has been established last year.
In the last decade, more Africans have perished from AIDS than from famine, war and natural disasters combined. And we can predict with tragic certainty that if nothing drastic is done, the situation will be catastrophic.
The pandemic of HIV/AIDS is simply, without qualification, the greatest existing threat to humanity in general, and Africa in particular. It is reducing life expectancy dramatically. All the gains of increased life expectancy in the latter decades of the 20th century have been wiped out at a stroke. The disease is striking at the most productive age group: young adults. It is striking down huge numbers in crucial occupations, including teachers, civil servants, businesspeople, medical professionals in the prime of their life.
The challenge of HIV/AIDS is therefore immense. It is truly a collective challenge, which falls on all of us. Across Africa and the world there are many impressive, often inspiring efforts to contain the pandemic, educate those at risk, and care for those who are HIV positive or who suffer from AIDS. But the relentless spread of the virus tells us that this is simply not enough.
Our point of departure roust be an appreciation of the fact that while AIDS is a disease that infects and kills human beings, it is also a societal disaster. It attacks the weakest points in our societies. It attacks where our societies are secretive, or hypocritical, or abusive, or unjust, and above , all, where the social fabric has been torn apart by relentless processes of economic impoverishment.
Let me look at some of the damage done to our societies' immune systems that has allowed the HIV virus to become pandemic.
Poverty and inequality: Across Africa, the poorest people either do not know how to protect themselves against HIV transmission, or cannot afford protection.
In the long term, economic development in a sustainable and equitable manner is an essential component in the struggle against HIV/AIDS.
Gender inequality: At the very centre of the HIV/AIDS pandemic is the unequal treatment of women. We all know that women tend to be more conscious of their health - particularly reproductive health - than men. All the evidence shows that women are quicker to understand and appreciate messages about HIV and how to prevent it.
But it is shocking to learn that the category of people most highly at risk from contracting HIV is teenage girls. And the main reasons for this are that these girls are almost totally powerless whey it comes to sexual relations. They are raped, coerced, intimidated, manipulated or simply bought.
Everybody here is a person directly or indirectly affected by HIV/AIDS. Those who are not themselves infected, are stricken by the wider repercussions of the pandemic. Citizens, community leaders, civil society organizations, religious organizations, trade unions, businesses - in fact every part of our societies - have responsibilities to become part of a grand African and world coalition against HIV/AIDS. No one should be demobilized from this collective struggle. Youth, women and people living with HIV/AIDS should be at the forefront of this coalition. This is a multi-faceted struggle: a struggle for human rights, the empowerment of women, for the restoration of basic health and education services, for equitable development - in fact it is a struggle for the future of human kind, particularly in Africa.
The crisis of HIV/AIDS is crying out for political leadership with vision and compassion. Overcoming HIV is a task that will require leadership at all levels particularly within Africa, and across all social sectors. It is also an international challenge. HIV knows no boundaries. It will be overcome by collective international action or not at all. For that reason, the African leaders who met at Abuja called on all African countries to make the containment of HIV/AIDS a priority. This is an indication of the importance Africa attaches to this pandemic. The fact the UN General Assembly has convened this special session to discuss the issue also is a milestone in recognizing this scourge internationally. It is my delegation's hope that the projected Global Fund for Health and HIV/AIDS will have a mechanism whereby all stakeholders - donors, countries most affected, the UN and others will have a say in its management. It goes without saying that the management and workings of such a fund has to be transparent.
Let me stress again, the struggle against HIV/AIDS requires international leadership: world-wide coalition primarily across countries heavily affected and in partnership with the international community. The task is certainly daunting, but we have no choice other than to begin acting now. This Summit and Special Session of the UN General Assembly is a very important and laudable step towards ensuring that the Agenda of combating HIV/AIDS is taken with due seriousness globally. Let us make sure that this is not a one-off event, but that the momentum generated at Abuja, Nigeria last April is sustained beyond this Special Session. We should rise up to the challenge. To the youth and the children of Africa and the World, we must pledge to do our utmost to make them live in communities in which they are no longer plagued by HIV/AIDS and in which basic health is available to all. This is no utopia but possible.