DR JIMMIE RODGERS
DEPUTY DIRECTOR-GENERAL, SECRETARIAT OF THE PACIFIC COMMUNITY
ON THE OCCASSION OF THE TWENTY- SIXTH SPECIAL SESSION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY ON HIV / AIDS
WEDNESDAY 27 JUNE 2001
Mr President, Distinguished Heads of States and Governments, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Allow me first of all to join the accolades of all previous speakers in congratulating the Secretary General for leading this global initiative in our fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
This Special session of the United Nations General Assembly is both timely and critical for all our countries. It is timely not because we have just encountered the virus, nor because we have witnessed it's methodological destruction of the very fabrics of our societies over the previous two decades. It is timely because for the very first time during the past twenty years, leaders of the world community are prepared to stand up together, and declare with one voice, we will fight against the scourge of HIV/AIDS. We will take stock of our previous modalities of containing and controlling the virus. We will look more seriously at bringing resources to bear, both human and financial, in all our countries whether developing or developed, big or small in-order to better position ourselves to contain, control and hopefully ultimately irradicate HIV/AIDS. These I believe are but some of the sentiments embodied in the Draft Declaration of Commitment we hope to adopt at this special session.
Never before in the history of humanity have we faced so formidable a foe that has the potential to wipe total populations. Never before has humankind's right to exist on this planet earth been threatened to such an extent that if nothing is done to halt the rapid transmission of this deadly virus, some countries could be devoid of their entire populations within the next two to three decades. Nothing that we have come up against can compare with the slow but sure destructive nature of HIV/AIDS. Neither plagues, nor war nor pestilence can compare because these have specific geographical boundaries, and can be contained. HIV/AIDS on the other hand has no boundaries. It has infiltrated all corners of the globe, and has already commenced destroying the very fabrics of our existence.
For the small developing Island countries and territories of the pacific region, the impact of an uncontrolled rapid transmission of the HIV/AIDS virus would be disastrous. The pacific islands region comprises twenty-two island countries and territories. Collectively they only have a population of approximately 8.5 million people, a total land area of just over half a million square kilometers (eighty percent of which is Papua New Guinea), scattered over some 33 million square kilometres of ocean. To put the size into perspective, the whole of Europe can fit into the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of French Polynesia alone (only one of the 22 island nations) with room to spare. A feature of the pacific islands is the vast distances of ocean, geographical isolation which can both be an advantage and a disadvantage in our efforts to control the HIV/AIDS Virus. Another feature of the pacific islands is that we account for more than fifty-five percent of the world's languages. English literacy rates are low in many of the Anglophone countries. These are some of the challenges faced by pacific island countries and territories when developing appropriate intervention strategies to control HIV/AIDS.
However vision and foresight is not lacking although there is room for improvement. Many pacific island countries have already developed national integrated, multi-sectoral strategic plans to contain HIV/AIDS. In many of these strategies the roles of non-government organisations, churches, and civil society groups are very important ingredients of the service delivery and outreach activities. Effective partnership is the key - whether it is on prevention education awareness or care and support of HIV/AIDS patients.
Complementing the national service provision are regional organisations, that provide technical advice, training, research and backstopping services to member countries and territories. The secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) where I have the privilege to serve, is the lead Regional Technical Agency in the pacific that works with pacific island countries and territories on HIV/AIDS. In addition to providing advise or technical assistance to countries in the development of their national HIV/AIDS strategic plans and development of education awareness materials we also work through our technical programs in land., marine and social resources to disseminate information on HIV/AIDS.
Like all countries represented here from other regions of the world, pacific island countries and territories come to this special session with great expectations. We welcome the establishment of the Global HIV/AIDS and Health Fund and like many other countries we hope that access to the fund would be easy, timely and that equity based on merit be a feature in obtaining assistance from the fund. For the pacific island countries this is a very important point, because the focus of the respective pacific islands intervention strategies maybe different from countries where HIV/AIDS is already rampant. The point here is that quantum and size of the epidemic should not be the only determining factor of access to the fund. Rather a country's vulnerability, the potential to arrest the epidemic in one or more countries or to stop the virus entering another country at relatively small costs should also feature in the criteria of assessing need. Prevention remains the main strategy. Whilst the rates in the pacific are currently relatively low by world standards, they are very high by pacific standards because of their different population and economic base, and the very high vulnerability these small island countries are exposed to.
Part of the solution in our fight against HIV/AIDS must start from having
a correct perception of the nature of the enemy we are fighting. The major
reason for the low level of recognition and therefore priority accorded
to HIV/AIDS in many countries in the past two decades is directly due to
the simple fact that in many countries HIV/AIDS is labeled a `Health Problem'.
This is because the most graphic picture they see in their `minds eye'
when one talks about the HIV virus is that of a poor debilitated patient,
dying in a hospital bed. This is the first perception we have to change.
Yes, the HIV virus in the natural cause of the infection causes AIDs, the
disease; but the HIV/AIDS pandemic we are dealing with goes beyond health.
It has never been a plain heath issue, and will never be a total health
issue. The health sector, public or private only comes into the picture
because they provide the diagnostic, treatment, care and support services
that patients who are sick with the HIV virus need. We must remember that
hospitals are really the end point receivers of something that occur outside
the health sector many years before the infected people get sick. That
is where our attention should be directed. HIV/AIDS is not a health problem
per se, it is worse. It is humankind's worst nightmare.
Over the past couple of days, many leaders have described HIV/AIDS in a number of ways. To quote a couple of examples `AIDS is a development Catastrophe'; `A huge development challenge'. Many leaders have expressed the magnitude of the task ahead of us in ways, which demonstrated their respect for the enemy. The fact that this Special Session is honoured by the presence of Heads of States and Governments, Ministers and other very high officials from many countries around the world, bears witness to the fact, that we are no longer dealing with a mere health issue, but a global and national crises of the worst kind that has ever attacked human kind. The impact of HIV/AIDS on a country's social, cultural, health, economic and political structure is enormous. For Pacific Island countries and territories, the fight against HIV/AIDS must take on a new recognition that it is not just a simple health issue. The potential damage that HIV/AIDS can bring to any island country needs to be properly put into perspective so that governments can respond more effectively and bring resources to bear to prevent or control the introduction or transmission of the HIV virus.
The pacific island countries have been greatly encouraged by the statements of support and commitment made by the developed countries both to the global fund initiative as well as their respective national programs to assist developing countries. To mention a few they include; the United States of America, Canada, United Kingdom, Norway, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, France, Ireland, Finland, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand. I would like to invite these countries to join Australia and New Zealand in providing some focussed program support to national and regional initiatives in the pacific to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS. The pacific region needs financial support to keep the current low prevalence form rising. It is a region where small amounts of well directed financial support could make huge impacts. Lack of support however could tip the balance from one of great potential to one of huge liability for the island nations.
The challenge of HIV/AIDS is for real. Many developing countries have contributed to the wealth particularly of many of the world's pharmaceutical giants. They are now in need of a helping hand to take them through the HIV/AIDS crises. The fruits of the declaration of commitment we will adopt will only be seen in action, action that makes a difference. It is the hope of all developing countries that we will walk the talk, and collectively take the fight to our adversary, HIV/AIDS. Time is of essence. It took the world twenty years to put the HIV/AIDS epidemic at the very top of the world's political agenda. We have seen what the HIV virus has done in those twenty years. We have heard during this special session what it can do in the future. It is now time for the world community to move forward, with determination and resolve to confront the adversary. This is where developing countries whilst doing their part needs the genuine commitment and assistance from their more develop neighbours. The time to act is now. Possibly the only thing that is worse than the HIV/AIDS epidemic is in-action from the world community to jointly and collectively fight HIV/AIDS.
Thank you, Mr President.