United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS

27June 2001

In the closing hours of this special session we can all accept that we are quite simply facing the most devastating global epidemic in modern history. You have heard the statistics this week; there are now 36 million people are living with HIV/AIDS and in the worst affected parts of the world more than one in four adults are infected. But, given the uncertain science of forecasting, we have not fully confronted what happens if the disease is not checked: infection levels reaching hundreds of millions; a generation without parents; economies collapsing as a slave-trade like effect occurs within the economically productive generation leaving societies of children and grandparents.

  That is why this must be the year the world finally goes on a war-footing. Doing so requires us to focus squarely on three chief objectives: first, preventing new infections and reversing the spread of the epidemic; second, expanding equitable access to new HIV treatments; third alleviating the disastrous impact of AIDS on human development.

  Whether we are able to succeed will depend on mobilizing all elements of society, from international organizations to political leaders, from businesses to foundations and civil society groups, to tackle this problem together. This UN General Assembly Special Session gives us a framework to do this.

  This week all have agreed that HIV/AIDS is much more than simply a public health concern. Preventing its spread requires strong national political leadership driving a range of initiatives including sex education in schools, public awareness campaigns, programmes in the workplace, mobilization of religious and community leaders, action to mitigate the impact on poverty and essential social services, support for orphans, and tough policy decisions in ministries of finance to ensure optimal allocation of resources to cope with the crisis.

  The estimate for an adequate global response to HIV/AIDS in low- and middle-income countries is $7-10 billion annually. That might sound like a large sum of money, but even that would only give us the tools to tackle the direct problems of prevention and treatment on a limited basis.

Without increased development assistance and deeper debt relief to support national poverty reduction efforts and shoring up the provision of essential social service, severely affected by the loss of human resources due to AIDS, efforts in these areas will be built on sand. Poverty, ignorance gender inequalities and inadequate services remain among the most serious factors fuelling the spread of the epidemic and hindering access to treatment.

Under the leadership of the Secretary-General, UNDP, as part of the UNAIDS coalition, is absolutely committed to helping ensure we achieve real and measurable results in all these areas. We recognize that the growth of resources in a new global fund will rest on performance and results.

UNDP is focussing its work where we can best draw on our comparative advantages as the UN's chief development agency and a trusted partner and adviser to developing countries world wide. In particular, that means focusing on the governance challenge of mobilizing actors and institutions well beyond the health sector, developing national plans and a co-ordinating office at the highest level of government, using initiatives like our national Human Development Reports to provide better analysis and advocacy, helping governments to scale up multi-sector and multipartner national AIDS strategies, and working to integrating the issue of HIV/AIDS into broader national poverty strategies.

We are also helping build capacity to help take these national strategies down to community level and implement them where they can have the most impact while assisting governments in raising the resources needed to meet the challenge. And as manager of the Resident Coordinator System, we are playing a pivotal role in ensuring proper coordination and synergy between the contributions of the various parts of the UN at country level - in particular through the improved function of UN theme groups on HIV/AIDS.

Let me today report on two further initiatives: first, drawing on our leadership role in the use of Information and Communications Technologies for development we are working to bring together a new "ICT Against HIV/AIDS Coalition", bringing together businesses, foundations, our sister agencies in the UN and governments from both North and South. This is intended to provide a unique vehicle for swift and ongoing followup to the UNGASS, using the latest technologies to develop innovative new approaches to tackle the crisis, linking real networks of practioners and others. Steps are being taken to launch this coalition shortly in a way that will allow partners from the G-8's Digital Opportunity Task force to the UN ICT Task Force and others to join.

Second, we cannot ignore the tragedy within our own ranks. It is estimated that at least 3,000 UN staff and their dependents are currently living with HIV/AIDS, and in our offices in the worst affected countries hospital visits and funerals of staff have become a tragic part of daily life. As head of UNDP, I have now committed to ensure that all international and national regular staff shall have access to the new antiretroviral treatment, regardless of duty station. They are fully covered by our health insurance schemes, and thanks to the rapidly spreading availability across the world, no staff member will be denied access to these life prolonging treatments. I now challenge other international employers, such as large corporations, to do the same for their staff in AIDS-affected countries.

We have made an encouraging start. But we have started late and there is a very long way to go. The current spending, from all international and national sources, on HIV/AIDS in developing countries is currently less than $2 billion a year. A world that spent an estimated $500bn to tackle the elusive Y2K bug on our computers must be able to do more to tackle a virus that has already claimed 22m lives but affected still more through infection, and families brought down by loss of parents, spouses and children.