25-27 JUNE 2001 New York

Distinguished Heads of State and Government, Mr. Secretary General, Mr. President, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:

    Last year, we shared in the excitement and heightened expectation of a new Millennium. Leaders spoke optimistically about the future, and agreed to work to improve the lives of our peoples. In Saint Kitts and Nevis, we, too, were optimistic despite the multitude of problems that threatens to derail the optimism of our efforts to develop the human potential of our people, in its fullest sense. We applaud the United Nations for continuing to play a pivotal role and for demonstrating leadership in helping to address many of the challenges we face.

    One of these challenges, Mr. President, is the pandemic of HIV/AIDS. The reality of this disease and its devastating potential is well documented and the decision of the United Nations to focus global attention on this disease is both opportune and necessary. This Special Session on HIV/AIDS offers an opportunity for us to look more closely at the reality of the disease; its impact and what should be done to address it. My delegation praises the Secretary General for his forwardthinking Millennium Report that called on policy makers to work to arrest the spread of this deadly disease and to register tangible results by the year 2015.

    This is a monumental task, but a necessary task because the reality for people living with HIV/AIDS is a tragically grim one. The stigma of the disease, the wider social ostracism, alienation within families, and the lack of resources to get treatment represent serious obstacles to addressing this problem. Additionally, we, in the small economies of the Caribbean are especially troubled by the potential that this disease could decimate a generation of young people, weaken our economies, and set back. human development by decades.

    Mr. President, although the rate of infection in the Caribbean is a fraction of that of the worst affected countries in Africa, it has been reported that the Caribbean region ranks second behind Sub-Saharan Africa. In percentage terms, it is higher than that of North America and Southeast Asia. Regrettably, the institutions and private foundations that pledge to assist the countries in Africa do not appear to have recognized the seriousness of the situation in the Caribbean.

    Recent statistics from the Caribbean Epidemiological Center and UNAIDS estimate that approximately 360,000 adults and children are living with HIV/AIDS; of which an estimated 60,000 adults and children have been newly infected with the HIV virus. It is suggested that 700 of the reported AIDS cases are in persons between the ages of 15 and 44; and 50% between the ages of 2.5 and 34 years. The statistics paint an alarming picture, Mr. President.

    This disease poses a clear and present danger to the development of hurnan security. How can we develop or maintain current levels of development if the very pillars of our economic viability - our human capital - are under siege - And make no mistake, Mr. President, we are under siege.
    We welcome the recent indications that the international community has begun to recognize the reality that HIV/AIDS is a real threat to development in our small countries. In. recent times, some developed countries have stepped forward with modest initiatives and the World Bank has opened a $150 million low interest line of credit to assist countries in AIDS related projects.

    This disease, although it does not discriminate, has proved to be overwhelmingly devastating to the young, the poor and our woman folk. In the face of this phenomenon, Caribbean countries have been both steadfast and proactive. We have taken steps to build the requisite national infrastructure and to strengthen regional mechanisms to stern the spread of this deadly disease.

    To this end, and for its part, my government has forged strategic partnerships with the Caribbean Epidemiological Center [CAREC], the Pan American Health Organization [PAHO], local private sector organizations, civil society and persons infected with the disease, and others, These frank and open discussions have resulted in the development of a Strategic Plan ,for the National Response to HIV/AIDS -St. Kitts and Nevis.

    Our national expanded response embraces several key health promotion strategies that are detailed in the regionally developed plan for Caribbean Cooperation in Health. It is premised on the importance of continued, holistic, and mufti-sectoral involvement. It also envisages engaged political and financial support from government and calls for participation from the society at large. Through this approach, we intend to meet head-on the challenges posed by HIV/AIDS and encourage broad participation in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the programs designed to prevent the spread of HIV /AIDS. We intend to foster care and support systems for persons living with AIDS; promote and enhance advocacy; improve surveillance, epid.emiology and research; and enhance program coordination and management.

    The programs we are undertaking, Mr. President, are geared towards placing us not only on the frontline in the fight to arrest the spread this deadly disease, but also to allow us to develop mechanisms to provide access to treatment and care. We thank and applaud the Caribbean Epidemiological Center, UNAIDS and the Fan American Health Organization for their support and we look forward to their continued engagement in the Caribbean as we battle this pandemic. In the past two and a half years, my government has committed ten percent of the Health budget to AIDS-related programs.

    But, like the countries in Africa, the Caribbean countries have little access to the oft-expensive antiretroviral medicines that can prolong the life or improve the health of infected persons. The prohibitive cost of these drugs also put them out of the reach of even the budgets of most Caribbean governments. Antiretroviral drugs and inexpensive access are fundamental to any viable and productive treatment approach to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In the absence of these drugs, most patients diagnosed with AIDS may die within two years. Hardly any of these individuals can. afford the ten to twenty thousand dollars a year necessary to obtain treatment, which is usually administered by private doctors and in many cases, outside the region.

    Another frightening statistic, Mr. President, according to UN estimates, and the Caribbean Epidemiological Center estimates, overall child mortality will increase sixty percent by 2010 if treatment programs are not improved.

    Mr. President, I have just outlined for you only one element of the situation as it obtains in the Caribbean. This is not scare tactics, but an objective attempt to focus serious attention on the dynamics of HIV/AIDS. Our reality with AIDS is one with potential for huge losses in human capital, and lowered economic growth.

    I stand before you to remind the international community that HIV/AIDS is not people specific, it does not have a country bias; but it threatens us all. It should force us to accept that in the struggle to preserve the fabric of our humanity, we must work together to solve this problem.

In hosting this Special, Session we have made a positive step, but we must do much more.

I thank you.