27 JUNE 2001

Mr. President,

It is a great honour for me to address this august gathering on behalf of the Government and people of Samoa. I bring with me the very best of wishes from my Government and people for a successful outcome of this gathering, and heartfelt sympathies for the loss of lives, young and old, to this deadly disease.

The convening of this special session emphasises the seriousness, commitment, determination and courage that our respective countries attach to combating HIV/AIDS. We have heard poignant and moving accounts of the sufferings, anguish and losses of each and every country represented at this special session, particularly those regions that are seriously afflicted. These were not easy to listen to, yet this is the reality we are faced with today - so many lives lost to an insidious disease that knows no boundaries, and respects no race, religion, creed or gender.

The emergence and identification of the virus that causes AIDS twenty-years ago, and the ensuing devastation that it has since caused, has dramatically altered the ways in which we live, in particular, our lifestyles. It has touched every society in many different ways. It could not be contained. It is as much a social problem as it is a deadly disease. It has been instructive to all of us, yet at a cost so high and damaging to the very existence of humankind.

Mr. President,

My country is not immune to this disease either. Our current population stands at approximately 170,000. Like other developing countries, we have a young population, with more than half below the age of twenty. The very first case of HIV/AIDS in Samoa was recorded in 1990. Since then and up to the present time, a total of 12 HIV/AIDS cases have been recorded, most of whom were infected by transmission through sexual contact. The very fact that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is low in Samoa is not a reason for complacency on our part. The experience in our own country, regionally, and internationally has shown that if we were to prevent the further spread of HIV/AIDS in Samoa, we must face and address the challenging realities brought about by this pandemic.

In anticipation of the emergence of HIV/AIDS in Samoa, my Government proceeded to develop its National HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Program in 1987. Its key strategic aims were directed to the promotion of public awareness about the causes of HIV/AIDS, its modes of transmission, and the short and long-team consequences on the individual, their families and community, and nation as a whole. Subsequently, a National AIDS Coordinating Council (NACC) and the Technical AIDS Committee (TAC) were established pursuant to a Cabinet decision in 1987 and 1988 respectively. Their roles were threefold: to manage .the implementation and monitoring of the National AIDS Prevention and Control Program, and to coordinate national efforts in the drive to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Samoa. Whilst prevention remains central, care is also important, hence an integration of prevention and care are of the essence.

The Department of Health in Samoa is the national focal point for HIV/AIDS management and control. It also provides pertinent leadership, and professional and technical support to the National AIDS Coordinating Council and to the Technical AIDS Committee.

The very serious and real threat of HIV/AIDS and its consequences demanded a committed and coordinated national approach to the management and implementation of our national HIV/AIDS Program. The mufti-sectoral nature of HIV/AIDS and its broad national implications brought together various interest groups and stakeholders in Samoa to develop a National HIV/AIDS Policy, which was approved at the beginning of this year. The theme values of our National HIV/AIDS Policy are as follows: access to quality services, professionalism, partnership, equity, sustainability, faithfulness, love and compassion. These reflect our commitment to the Healthy Island Concept and Pacific way of life. Our National HIV/AIDS Policy aims to provide an overarching framework for the coordination of national efforts, and monitoring the wide range of mufti-sectoral responses to HIV/AIDS. It also ensures that the most current information on HIV/AIDS is produced and disseminated widely to all persons, targeting in particular our youth, and families in the rural areas. We wish to acknowledge with much gratitude the kind assistance of WHO, UNAIDS, UNFPA, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), and the Governments of Australia, New Zealand and Japan for their continued financial and technical support in this connection.

Mr. President,

All present here today are fully cognizant of which behaviours lead to greatest risks of transmission and infection. Whilst the incidence and prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Samoa is low, we realise that we cannot rest on our laurels while an aggressive regional and global awareness campaign is ongoing. In Samoa, our culture is central to our way of life - we have a strong affinity to our land and sea, based on our love and respect for our cultural values and strong Christian principles. It is through this bond that we are able to have a workable and successful, collaborative partnership with all key stakeholders, namely our churches, village councils, women's groups, youth groups and nongovernmental organisations on reproductive health, including family planning and sexual health programs (RH/FP/SH), and to promote healthy and responsible sexual lifestyles

For small island developing States like Samoa, the impact of uncontrolled and rapid transmission of the HIV/AIDS virus would be catastrophic. We have 'a small population, and a young one at that too. To be faced with the real threat of extinction is indeed distressing. We want to survive as a race into the next millennium. We want to see our children and fixture generations enjoy a secure fixture.

Mr. President,

Like those before me, we welcome the establishment of the Global HIV/AIDS Health Fund. Timely access to the Fund would be pertinent to our prevention and care efforts, and we hope that the low prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the Pacific region would not hinder the provision of financial, technical and medical assistance to our region. Whilst the onus of resource allocation is on the Government of Samoa, it is however pertinent that appropriate technical and financial assistance will continue to be sought from the appropriate donor agencies and development partners from time to time, and when the justified needs arise.

Mr. President,

Very recently, I was sent a compelling message written by a young student. Through the eyes of the young, this was how they perceived the world to be: "The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings, but shorter tempers; wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints; we spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the neighbour. We've conquered outer space, but not inner space; we've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul; we've split the atom, but not our prejudice. We have higher incomes, but lower morals; we've become long on quantity, but short on quality. These are the times of tall men, and short character; steep profits, and shallow relationships. These are the times of world peace, but domestic warfare; more leisure, but less fun; more kinds of food, but less nutrition. These are the days of two incomes, and more divorce; of fancier houses, but broken homes. It is a time when there is too much in the show window and nothing in the stockroom; a time when technology can bring information to you at the tap of a key, and a time when you can choose either to make a difference, or to just ignore it".

Mr. President,

We know where we stand today - we have achieved so much, and yet, we have failed in so many ways. The historical declaration of commitment that I trust will be adopted this afternoon should give rise to more holistic, comprehensive and concerted efforts and actions, at all levels, in the fight against HIV/AIDS. No nation is immune to this disease, and no person will be spared this experience. HIV/AIDS could make its presence felt through your parents, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews or friends. We know what must be done at the global, regional, national and local levels. THE time for action is now.

I thank you, Mr. President.