His Excellency Mr. Hussain Shihab
Permanent Representative of the Maldives to the United Nations

at the

Twenty-sixth special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS

27 June 2001 New York


Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is an honour for me to represent my country at this important special session'of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS.

Two decades have past since the first case of HIV/AIDS was detected. During this span of twenty years., it is estimated that nearly 56 million people had been infected and over 22 million had already died. Out of this over 4 million were children. Rich or poor, weak of strong, big or small, no continent, region or country has been spared.

This global epidemic, which has no boundaries, has become the number one health threat and a major impediment to development for many countries of the world.

The Maldives, a small island developing country, situated in the middle of the vast Indian Ocean with a population of less than three hundred thousand people, is no exception.

The first case of HIV/AIDS was confirmed in the country in 1991. Since then a total of 11 cases have been traced, out of which six are already deceased. Although the number of cases maybe relatively small when compared to many other countries, the potential threat that looms over us cannot be over emphasized. The rapid advancements in economic and social development in our country that had enabled our people to travel and interact frequently with the rest of the world have also exposed us to a wide range of infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Moreover, the increased inflow of tourists and the growing presence of a large number of expatriate work force in the country have contributed to the exposure of locals to the risk factors as well. Another high-risk group includes those locals working as seamen in various parts of the world. However, a recent study showed that the drug abuse associated sexual behaviour among youth as the single most obvious potential risk factor for HIV/AIDS infection in the country.

Mr. President.

Several preventive and control measures have been taken by the government to prevent and control the spread of HIV/AIDS. A National AIDS Council and a National AIDS Control Program was established during 1987, with the aim of facilitating full commitment in preventing and controlling the disease. The National Aids Council together with the National AIDS Control Program creates awareness of HIV/AIDS amongst the general population of the country. Steps being taken include: awareness programs conducted for health workers to prepare and enable them to generate accurate and adequate information concerning HIV/AIDS; training of peer educators at schools; conducting group educational activities and information education communication programs, mostly utilizing the mass media. In addition, sentinel surveillance sites are being set up where laboratory facilities are available. Distribution and availability of condoms at all health facilities and pharmacy outlets are also carried out as a major preventive measure.

Mr. President,

My country, being both a least developed country and a small island state, has to encounter many difficulties in carrying out an effective programme without the help of the international community. For example transportation difficulties within the atolls and the islands in the country had made the cost of the delivery of services extremely expensive. Thus the government is presently forced to redesign the existing surveillance programs, which is necessary to explore and understand social and behavioral changes in order to properly monitor the impact of the disease within the communities. The lack of human resources needed for the effective implementation of the programs is another important obstacle that we face. Expertise such as epidemiological skills and specialized counseling has to be made available through training, to effectively implement the national control activities. Training on clinical presentations of HIV/AIDS, prevention and treatment of opportunistic infections, and symptomatic treatment is of immediate importance. Resource allocations are required for the training as early as possible so that the surveillance activities can be revamped. While we all emphasis on the urgency of finding the resources for treatment to tackle the sad plight of millions of people suffering from AIDS, we should pursue a stronger preventable and educational policy and measures to effectively win the battle against AIDS.

Mr. President,

My country is confident that this special session of the General Assembly will prove to be a milestone in the fight against this deadly disease. The final outcome of this session should be a forward looking, action oriented and a realistic one. It should be one that all peoples of the world, regardless of their social, cultural, religious or political differences, can fully subscribe to, while at the same time maintaining its primary focus of rolling back and eventual halting of this global epidemic. If we were to successfully implement the commitments that we enter into and the goals that we will set at this special session, then it is absolutely essential for all countries to demonstrate fully their political will and be ready to commit adequate financial resources that is required. The active and dedicated contribution of the civil society and other major stakeholders such as the pharmaceutical industry and the large multinational corporations is also extremely vital. Unless the financial resources and the technical assistance are forthcoming, the developing countries, and especially the least developed among them, will not be able to sustain the required momentum that is, undoubtedly, necessary to fight this deadly disease.

Before I conclude, allow me Mr. President, to welcome the recent initiative of the Secretary-General to set up the Global AIDS and Health Fund. We sincerely
hope that the targets set out for the Fund will be realized soon. We join others in thanking those countries, organizations and individuals who have so generously contributed to the Fund so far. We call upon all concerned to contribute generously to the Fund.

Thank you Mr. President.