HIS EXCELLENCY MR.
MINISTER OF HEALTH OF THE REPUBLIC OF TURKEY
AT THE TWENTY-SIXTH SPECIAL SESSION OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY ON HIV/AIDS
NEW YORK, 27 JUNE 2001
Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Epidemics have always been a major threat to mankind throughout history.
At times the caused great destructions, some even wiped out civilizations.
Towards the end of the 20 century the world was shocked by the emergence
of HIV/AIDS, which some describe as the plague of modern times. The World
Health Organization, alarmed by the sudden rise of the threat, initiated
studies in developing "Second Generation Surveillance Techniques" underlining
the relationship between social strata, changes in risk bearing behaviors,
connection to other contagious venereal diseases and pregnancy.
In Turkey, we are well aware of the problem and actively seek solutions. Rapid industrialization and urbanization influence every aspect of social and economic development. Economic development, on the other hand, opens the way to a consumption society and individualism, thus leading to social changes where large families gradually disappear, and consequently, traditional values erode. Moreover, Turkey, due to its geography, is prone to large population movements that also contribute to high risk levels. In spite of all these facts, we do not face a boom in HIV/AIDS infection in Turkey, as is the case for some parts of the world. Yet, we are well aware that, due to various reasons, the task of establishing the real dimensions of sexually contracted diseases is a rather difficult task.
My country is still among the least affected from this disease. Of the 1141 cases reported between 1985 and 2000, 2/3 were carriers of HIV virus while the rest were in the advanced stages. But it is significant that 14% of these cases were reported in 2000. This could also be seen pointing to a higher level of consciousness in the public. The majority of the cases are in the 25 to 35 age group, having possibly contracted the disease at younger ages. Although the majority of the infected persons are males, the numbers are rising among females.
According to statistics, more than half of the infected persons contracted
the disease through unprotected sex, mainly heterosexual relationships.
10% of the total number consists of drug users, while cases traced back
to blood transfusions remained at 0.4%. Persons who lived or traveled abroad
constitute 25% of the total.
In Turkey, measures have been taken to provide health care for all HIV/ADDS
patients. The State also covers the expenses of those patients who are
not for some reason covered within the existing healthcare system.
Various voluntary and nongovernmental organizations are also active in supporting the efforts of the State in providing financial assistance, employment, psycho-social counsel to HIV/AIDS patients to overcome their ordeal, and also in developing the existing specialized medical facilities.
Efforts aimed at changing the social behavior and educational measures
to improve consciousness as well as improvements in self-protection are
now bearing fruits. One palpable result which should be mentioned, is the
expanding use of condoms. As mentioned above, educational programs, essentially
similar to the ones in developed countries have been proven instrumental
in slowing down the spread of the HIV virus.
Finally, we are well aware that unless effective and extensive prevention measures are taken, HIV/AIDS may become a serious threat in Turkey as well. Equally, efforts must be spent to prevent AIDS from disrupting through prejudice and discrimination, the very structure of families and the society as a whole. Problems emanating from this disease should openly be discussed in all related fora while efforts be spent to overcome secretiveness and other cultural and traditional restraints that prevail in society. Likewise, safe sexual behavior and use of condoms should be encouraged. AIDS patients and their families should receive counseling so that they do not close in to themselves and risk falling into depression.
We commend the efforts of several international bodies headed by the
U.N. which resulted in the reduction of the per patient cost of those drug
combinations which slow or contain the progress of the disease to around
600 Dollars. However, even this price is still beyond the reach of many
countries as the funds they can allocate to health services are limited.
This insufficiency, it seems, will not be overcome in the near future.
In our opinion, more international assistance must be brought forth to
support this struggle. Turkey, certainly appreciates the willingness of
the developed countries to contribute generously to the fight against HIV/AIDS.
But we do also draw attention to the need of tailoring specific programs
recognizing the social, cultural, and economic realities of the recipient
countries rather than imposing standardized programs on them.