MR. ROBERT L. SHAFER
Charge d'affairs of the
Sovereign Military Order of Malta
SESSION OF THE
New York, 25-27 June, 2001
Thank you very much for allowing us the floor.
We are indebted to the Secretary-General and to the General Assembly for their leadership and vision in calling this 26th Special Session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, with its legacy of 900 years of service to the sick and the poor, enthusiastically supports this Special Session as one dedicated to those we try to serve. It is imperative that all our efforts to combat the scourge of this disease are coordinated on a global scale. Today's scattered and variously inadequate initiatives must coalesce into a concerted, effective world program. Only the UN can provide that leadership and coordination.
The raw statistics alone furnish compelling reasons for this Special Session. With 3 million AIDS deaths last year and 5.3 million new HIV infections, there are now over 36 million victims living with this disease worldwide. We gather here to join our resources into one single commitment to reverse the alarming rate of new infections.
How do we fight this pandemic with success? There are several measures that are essential:
We are only at the first step in the very long journey to fight what the Secretary-General has called the most formidable development challenge of our time. We must have clear, feasible strategies to protect and help infected individuals, with special regard for the most vulnerable groups in our societies. Assisting the sick and the suffering has been the special focus of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Throughout its 900-year history, the Order has seen many epidemics, but none more calamitous to humanity than HIV/AIDS.
Prevention of infection is a needed long-range solution to the crisis. Public education must be a component of that solution, along with medicines and treatment. Even the developed countries must understand that without decisive and significant prevention programs on their parts, the number of infected persons in their countries could reach figures similar to those in countries where the disease is already pandemic.
The local production of anti-retroviral drugs in some countries has lowered the number of sick persons. But all the social and legal measures taken in the struggles against the HIV/AIDS epidemic must be accompanied by education. Education in traditional values of morality, abstinence and care for our fellow citizens is the foundation of our society and must be restored to eradicate the plague of HIV/AIDS.
While prevention is critical, the only definitive means of eliminating AIDS is through development of a vaccine. The heaviest concentration of AIDS in poor nations has impeded this process. We must call upon the governments of developed countries to increase funding for AIDS research and facilitate vaccine development.
This pandemic particularly victimizes the young. In Africa, more than 60% of new HIV infections strike people aged 15 to 24, although this age cadre is only 20% of the population. Lack of basic information about the disease, lack of health education and of health care all contribute to this horror, which falls especially upon young adults.
One particularly heartbreaking group of victims is the children orphaned by the AIDS virus. In Africa alone, there are 8 to 9 million such children, according to Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS. Such groups of child victims must be considered priorities by national and international public health programs.
When taking the floor in other forums of the United Nations, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta has expressed its concern for violations of human rights. The violation of human rights is an issue in this Special Session, albeit in a secondary manner. When a national state is unable, for whatever reason, to protect the rights of its citizens, this mission falls to the international community. If a state has failed to put the systems in place to protect its citizens from AIDS, even in remote areas, the issue becomes the concern of the international community.
Resources allocated thus far are insufficient to develop vaccines and preventive treatment for all those who need it. We are convinced that a global strategy -- planned, programmed and coordinated with the support of all in the decision-making process -- can be the most effective way to combat the present danger. We are eager to participate in this first step toward the definitive eradication of HIV/AIDS. The UN must take the lead in drawing that plan together, so that it may be a clear call for all nations and peoples of good will.
Mr. President, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is fighting
HIV/AIDS to the utmost. We know that the aid provided by one community
is a drop of water in an arid desert, but we are proud to renew our commitment
to eliminate this disease. Today, we do so in solidarity with all the Member
States of the United Nations, the entire international community and with
all willing partners in this campaign. Thank you very much Mr. President.