His Excellency President Olusegun Obasanjo
[president of the Federal Republic of  Nigeria]

 At The United Nations Special Session On HIV/AIDS

New York. 25 June, 2001


Mr. President, only two months ago, African leaders met in a historic Summit in Abuja, to demonstrate our firm commitment to combating the scourge of HIV/AIDS in order ensure the survival of our continent. It is for this reason that Nigeria welcomes the convening of this UN Special Session to set the agenda for meeting the immense challenges posed by a disease so deadly that it is has become one of the greatest obstacles to human development and security.

Mr. President, may I, on behalf of the Government and people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, thank you, members of your Bureau and all those who have worked tirelessly to make this very important occasion a reality. I have no doubt that, under your able guidance, we shall achieve the objectives for which we have all gathered here.

Our appreciation also goes to the indefatigable UN Secretary General, His Excellency Kofi Annan, and his team, particularly the Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Mr. Peter Piot, for their commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS. Their very excellent report provides us with the basis for very meaningful and fruitful deliberations.

Mr. President, it is distressing to note that Africa, a continent already crippled with problems of underdevelopment, poverty, food scarcity, internal conflicts, and the heavy burden of external debt, is the hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. According to the Secretary General's report, Africa is home to 70 per cent of adults and 80 per cent of children living with HIV. It is also home to three quarters of the nearly 22 million people worldwide that have died of AIDS since the epidemic began. Today, out of more than 36 million people worldwide living with AIDS, over 25 million are to be found in Africa. There is a growing population of children orphaned by AIDS, and of the world's 13 million of such children, over 12 million are in Africa.

Mr. President, with this trend in statistics, the future of our continent is bleak, to say the least, and the prospect of extinction of the entire population of a continent looms larger and larger. We do not have any choice but to contemplate exceptional measures to contain the spread and devastation of HIV/AIDS. And those measures have to be comprehensive and total at all levels, national, regional and global.

The Abuja Summit produced a Declaration On HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Other Related Infectious Diseases, as well as a Framework Plan of Action for the implementation of the Declaration: African leaders resolved to accord the fight against HIV/AIDS the highest priority in their respective national development plans:

. We committed ourselves to personally provide leadership in all activities of the national mechanisms to be established in our various countries;
. We agreed to mobilise necessary resources by allocating fifteen per cent of our annual national budgets to the improvement of the health sector;
. We also agreed to set up Leadership AIDS Watch for Africa to be made up. of leaders from seven African countries and the Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Mr. President, in Nigeria, we have sadly observed how the prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS has risen from less than two per cent in 1986, to about the critical five per cent mark in 1993. For a country with a population of around 120 million people, the potentially serious consequences of the situation cannot be overemphasized. However, I am pleased to report that our Government has adopted a multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary programme, as well as a "battle plan" -- the HIV/AIDS Emergency Action Plan (HEAP) -- to guide us in our fight against AIDS.

In taking the above steps, we in Africa are conscious of the need for additional assistance from the international community in support of the global dimension of the war against HIV/AIDS. The undeniable fact is that, with the fragility of our economies, we simply lack capacity to adequately respond to the magnitude of HIV/AIDS epidemic. African peoples are looking to this Special Session with renewed hope. We are expecting that this august assembly will address all aspects of the problem of HIV/AIDS, including the issue of international funding and cooperation, alleviating the social and economic impact, prevention, care and support, as well as the issue of access to, and affordability of drugs.

We are encouraged by the success story in the industrialised countries where HIV/AIDS is being reasonably controlled, and urge the international community to make a firm commitment to helping Africa achieve similar results. We support the initiative of the UN Secretary General to create a Global AIDS Fund, to fight HIV/AIDS and other diseases related to it. The Fund, which is to be capitalized by the donor community to the tune of seven to ten billion US dollars, would focus on prevention, with special attention to treatment through the provision of drugs at affordable prices by the leading international pharmaceutical companies. Let the administration and management of this Fund be the concern and responsibility of the UN Secretary-General, the donors and indeed all stakeholders, especially the victims who know where the shoe pinches.

Furthermore, the circumstance and the situation of HIV/AIDS underscore our call for total cancellation of Africa's debts in favour of investment in the social sector. Mr. President, if we are to be true partners in development, the debt issue must be addressed in a comprehensive manner that frees our resources to enable us fight the scourge of HIV/AIDS, as well as meet our other social obligations to our people.

Mr. President, I wish to make a plea for the millions who are already infected with the HIV virus. These people, referred to as `people living with HIV', require primary attention. I will include here the millions of children orphaned by the disease. This Special Session must therefore consider and adopt a comprehensive approach that accords priority to:

. the treatment and improvement of life for infected persons;
. the prevention of mother-to-child transmission; and
. adequate welfare and provision for AIDS orphans so that they can grow up into normal members of the society.

Let us come up with a programme that respects and saves `People Living with AIDS' as part of humanity. Let us help them to overcome the stigma of society, and they can join the crusade against further spread of the killer disease.

I wish this Special Session an outcome that is successful enough to rescue humanity from the clutches of a pandemic that threatens to blight the future of humankind.

I thank you. May God bless you all.