New York
Wednesday 27 June 2001

Mr. President,

I have the honour to deliver this statement on behalf of my own country, Tuvalu, and the other Pacific Islands Forum countries represented in New York: Australia, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, and the observer delegation from the Cook Islands which is attending the twenty-sixth Special Session of the General Assembly.

As this is Tuvalu's maiden statement since joining the United Nations last year, and the establishment of its Permanent Mission in New York a mere two weeks ago, please allow me first to reaffirm Tuvalu's confidence in the United Nations and its capacity to safeguard the fundamental rights and survival of members of the international community, particularly the most vulnerable such as small island and developing states.

Allow me also, Mr President, to record the Pacific Delegations' most sincere thanks to you, Your Excellency, and to Your Excellency's two Co-Facilitators, Her Excellency Ambassador Penny Wensley of Australia and His Excellency Ibra Kar of Senegal, for the sterling work that you have done in guiding and advancing the work for this Special Session on HIV/AIDS.

Mr President

The HIV/AIDS has affected every region, including my own. While the incidence of HIV and AIDS is relatively low in the Pacific, it is nevertheless a major issue of concern for our countries. We face a very high risk of HIV/AIDS transmission particularly because of the increasing mobility of populations in the Pacific. This demands an urgent response. Strong political commitment at all levels is crucial in dealing with this epidemic.

The small islands and developing states within the Pacific region face particular challenges in countering the spread of HIV/AIDS and in treating those who are HIV positive or have AIDS. The approach to the disease therefore must take account of the specific and unique situations of our member countries. Lack of communications infrastructure, and over-stretched health and education systems are factors, which have to be grappled with. The HIV/AIDS epidemic adds a new and alarming source of vulnerability to many small countries in our group, further exacerbating existing economic and environmental vulnerabilities.

Our delegations are of the firm view that prevention should be the mainstay of combating HIV/AIDS in the Pacific region. We know that the relatively low number of reported HIV/AIDS cases in our countries is not a reason for complacency. Once the disease takes hold, care and treatment would inevitably be extremely difficult to afford.

At the national level, many Pacific Island countries are already taking actions to address HIV/AIDS. Many countries have developed multi-sectoral national plans for action, including Australia, Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Samoa, Solomon Islands, New Zealand, Tonga, Federated States of Micronesia, Cook Islands and my own country, Tuvalu. Others are in the final stages of completing their plans. The Plans are specific to each country taking into account the range of vulnerable groups that are relevant in their local conditions.

We recognise the need to involve, and provide support to all sectors in combating HIV/AIDS. Community leaders, NGOs, schools, workplaces, hospitals and church networks are in a good position to support HIV/AIDS activities at national, provincial and district levels. Their respective roles in awareness raising could potentially encourage positive change in attitudes and behaviour, provide counseling services, access to condoms, treatment and palliative care services. Community level action and strategies are crucial tools in the battle against HIV/AIDS in the Pacific region. Capacity building is an essential need.

There also needs to be effective support to regional organizations in developing regional strategies to assist national efforts. We believe that UNAIDS presence in the Pacific region needs to be maintained. As well, UNAIDS must also review the modality of its operations in our region. The Regional Ministerial Meeting on HIV/AIDS in the Asia-Pacific in Melbourne in October will be a further opportunity to set regional priorities for our work on HIV/AIDS.

Mr President,

Prevention activities need to be culturally sensitive, while at the same time overcoming cultural barriers and social traditions, which might work against public education about HIVIAIDS. Prevention and care strategies and the Declaration of commitment, which we hope to adopt at this Special Session, need to take into account the diversity of vulnerable groups, and to target them with appropriate strategies. Multi-sectoral approaches to prevention and care are crucial, as is respect for the human rights of those who are vulnerable to, and who have contracted HIV/AIDS. There must be unflagging respect for women's human rights including their reproductive and sexual rights, if the global response to the pandemic is to be effective.

Access to safe blood supplies presents a particular challenge in many of our member countries which rely upon 'walking blood banks'. This raises the need to ensure that blood transfusions are conducted safely and do not transmit HIV infection.

Mr. President,

Our delegations welcome the establishment of a global fund to combat HIV/AIDS. We express our appreciation to those governments, foundations and individuals which have already committed support. International strategies and plans for resource mobilization must keep in mind the competing priorities of, and the constraints faced by developing countries.

In this regard, Mr. President, we wish to request that the Pacific island countries be assisted in their respective programmes to ensure the current low rate of HIV transmission and infection is contained and is ultimately eradicated.

For the Pacific region, time is of essence. We do not want the situation to deteriorate further. We need help. The good news is that as the populations are small enough, comparatively smaller amounts of well-targeted funding support can help the Pacific region stop further spread of HIV/AIDS. We also envisage that the global fund will be easily accessible and not bureaucratically cumbersome.

Finally, Mr. President, our delegations have great expectations that the Declaration of Commitment will be adopted by this Special Session; that it will outline practical and realistic opportunities to build and strengthen the capacity of the most vulnerable, particularly the small island developing states including my own, to counter the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

I Thank you.