PRESS CONFERENCE ON HIV/AIDS

22 May 2001

PRESS CONFERENCE ON HIV/AIDS

22/05/2001
Press Briefing

PRESS CONFERENCE ON HIV/AIDS

Another round of negotiations on the key outcome document of the forthcoming General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS began at headquarters yesterday.

The talks this week will seek agreement on a revised draft of the "Declaration of Commitment" to be adopted at the special session scheduled for

25 to 27 June.

Penny Wensley, Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations and one of two co-facilitators of the session, told a press briefing this afternoon that AIDS was a global problem which was spreading rapidly.  "We have to focus as much on prevention as we do on treatment and care and support for those affected".

The other co-facilitator is Ibra Deguene Ka, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations.  Also speaking at the briefing was Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS.

Ms. Wensley said the purpose of the special session was to raise the level of public awareness of the dimensions and scope of the problem and the threat that it posed to individuals, communities, nations and to the international community and to mobilize resources to deal with it.

"It is a global problem that needs global action and response", she declared, and added that it was no longer just a health problem, but "a development catastrophe".  AIDS was raising profound risks to security and to development, not just for individuals, or communities, but for entire countries. It was the face of the crisis, and a reality that had to be gotten across to people.

The problem could not be overcome unless there was a massive infusion of resources and the mobilization of political will as well as the economic and financial muscle needed to deal with the crisis.  She said the media was needed to communicate messages throughout the whole process, not just focusing on the funds and the drugs, but looking at the totality of the pandemic and helping get the message out.  "Help us to support Member States; to move forward so that the right outcomes can be achieved at the special session", she said.

Responding to a question at the briefing, Ibra Deguene Ka, Permanent Representative of Senegal, said the leadership role being played by the Secretary-General had created worldwide momentum for action to deal with the AIDS crisis. The Secretary-General's call for a global fund in his Abuja speech and his address to the Council on Foundations in Philadelphia had helped to create momentum in the run-up to the session.

In her opening remarks, Ms. Wensley recalled that the General Assembly had called for the special session last November.  The tasks of the co-facilitators were to work closely with UNAIDS to manage the preparatory process leading up to the special session.  They were required to ensure that Member States agreed on the text of the declaration of commitment that would be adopted by political

leaders attending the session by the end of June.  She stressed that the preparatory process was an unusual one -– there was no preparatory committee; no committee of the whole, no bureau.  They were working in different and creative ways to ensure that the final document was concise, readable, credible, action-oriented and responded fully to the sense of urgency and crisis that led to the decision to hold the special session.

The week ahead was a critical one.  Member States would be considering a revised text of the draft final document prepared by Ambassador Ka and herself, working with UNAIDS.  The document drew on comments by Member States, non-governmental organizations, agencies, and a range of stakeholders made previously on the first draft.  They had a big challenge ahead of them, but had been very impressed by the amount of work delegations had done; the high level of interest in the process around the world and by the seriousness of the contributions they had already received.

They were looking to Member States this week to work with great purpose and to stay very focused on the HIV/AIDS crisis and not to allow themselves to be distracted into debates and discussions that were not immediately pertinent to the crisis.  Above all, she said they should demonstrate to the millions of people out there who were expecting an appropriate response from the United Nations and its Member States that they were capable of responding to that very urgent challenge.

Mr. Ka, in his introductory remarks, said the preparatory process was a special one.  A positive response had been received from Member States and civil society that had enabled them to issue a draft document containing very concrete measures in terms of commitments to be made by leaders.  The growing HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa and other parts of the world had prompted the Millennium Summit to call for the special session, he said.  He hoped that the "global crisis will receive a global response" during the forthcoming session.  The international community must help countries mobilize resources to combat the pandemic.

He said about four round-tables would be organized for the leaders to have an inter-active debate; to talk about the epidemic and "about what they have in their hearts".  He also said the final outcome would be a declaration of commitment that was a credible, action-oriented document.

Dr. Piot said that week ahead was a crucial one as the delegations had to finalize the draft declaration.  He had been struck by reports that many countries had set up committees to prepare for the session.  He observed that it had taken 20 years for HIV/AIDS to be recognized as a 'global crisis' requiring 'global action', as stated in the title of the draft declaration.  It was appropriate that the United Nations, and specifically, the General Assembly should come up with such a debate and statement.

It was also part of international momentum around HIV/AIDS that had been growing during the past year.  The political culmination of the momentum was illustrated also by the Secretary-General's call to action which he made at the African Summit on AIDS in Abuja, Nigeria, as well as in Geneva last week.  Dr. Piot also referred to the resource commitments that were being made or considered. That could be added value to the special session, he stated.

A correspondent recalled that Heads of State and Government at the Millennium Summit had made a commitment to stop the spread of AIDS and start reversing it by 2015.  She wondered whether that still remained a target or whether there would be new interim targets.  She also asked what the most contentious issues remained in the draft declaration.

Ms. Wensley said the declaration made by the Millennium Summit still remained the overall target.  The draft document for the forthcoming special session set out a framework of specific targets and timetables, looking at the years 2003, 2005 and 2010 in a whole range of different areas.  The areas covered were prevention, care support and treatment, dealing with AIDS orphans and on science and research and HIV/AIDS in areas of conflict.  There was a strong wish on the part of Member States to have a really concrete action and to define a set of targets based on sound scientific and technical advice.  The proposals had been very thoroughly worked through with UNAIDS to ensure that they were achievable in  a technical sense and based also on results that had already been achieved in other areas.  It was hoped that Member States would agree on them in the discussions during the current week.  It was within the broad framework of the 2015 target of the Millennium Summit, she added.

The most contentious issues would fall into some broad areas, she said. There was very difficult discussion around the issue of resources.  A broad figure had been identified that was carefully based on expenditure patterns and trends and the cost of response measures to date.  There would be the usual discussions about priorities, and how the funds should be directed.  She referred to the proposal for a global fund, the details of which were emerging.  It was an issue that was being discussed in many forums.  She hoped there would be a political commitment to support the fund.

Another topic was the issue of access to and affordability of a cluster of drugs to treat HIV/AIDS.  There were very strong views about the matter, she said. It was not a straightforward or easy subject.  It involved a whole range of technical issues -- about trade law, intellectual property rights and legal questions.  She expected that there would be lively discussion on them, adding that Member States had differences of approach towards them.  There would be issues of a cultural or religious nature that would have to be treated delicately and with dignity.

Linked with those, as well as others affecting women, racial discrimination and human rights, was the fact that some governments might raise the question of what constituted rights.  They would talk about the right to health or to treatment, or access to treatment.  She said agreement could be reached on those issues so long as delegations focused on what was at stake at the session. 

Mr. Ka agreed with Ms. Wensley, noting that all the issues were sensitive. The main issue probably would be the mobilization and allocation of resources for the developing world and the least developed countries, especially regions most affected by AIDS.  He said African leaders in accepting to earmark 15 per cent of their national budget to tackling HIV/AIDS, had sent a strong signal.  National efforts should be complemented by the international community, through such actions as debt cancellation or debt relief.  Access to drugs was also important.

How were those directly affected by AIDS going to be involved in the special session?  A correspondent asked.  Mr. Ka said account had been taken of them.  In addition, civil society and non-governmental organizations were being involved in the preparatory process.  He said there would be a dialogue with them at a meeting

tonight.  Another was planned on Wednesday.  The facilitators had very good relations with civil society.  He said a conference of people living with AIDS was also being organized in Trinidad and Tobago.

Ms. Wensley underlined that the President of the General Assembly had emphasized the need for the involvement of civil society generally and specifically, people living with AIDS in the preparatory and other processes of the session.  They had worked with UNAIDS to ensure that happened.  UNAIDS had a network of contacts of people living with AIDS and had been consulting with them, through e-mails.  Thousands of representatives of non-governmental organizations as well as a significant number of people living with AIDS were expected for the session, she added.

The draft declaration states, among others, that strong leadership at all levels was essential for an effective response to the epidemic.  Leadership by governments needed to be complemented by leadership by civil society and the private sector.  Leadership also involved personal commitment and concrete actions.

At the national level governments should ensure that by 2003, they develop and implement national strategies and financing plans for combating HIV/AIDS that addressed among others the epidemic in forthright terms.  By 2005, they would have developed and made significant progress in implementing comprehensive strategies to strengthen community based health care and health care systems and infrastructure.

The draft declaration states that the HIV/AIDS challenge could not be met without new and additional resources and proposes that by 2005, through a series of incremental steps, resources should reach an overall target of annual expenditure on the epidemic of between 7 to 10 billion dollars.

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For information media. Not an official record.