PRESS BRIEFING BY UNAIDS
The special session could turn the tide on an epidemic that was changing tens of millions of infected people into a hundred million more in the near future, correspondents were told this afternoon at a Headquarters press briefing on the opening day of the special session on HIV/AIDS. The speaker was Peter Piot, the Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
Also taking part in the briefing were the Policy Director of UNAIDS, Julia Cleves and the UNAIDS Director of Public Information, Anne Winter. Also participating was the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Gro Harlem Brundtland and Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Chair of the Committee of the seven UNAIDS co-sponsoring organizations. Finally taking part was Mark Malloch Brown, Administrator of the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP), which coordinates United Nations action at the country level.
Continuing his presentation, Mr. Piot of UNAIDS said the world could change the business-as-usual attitude it had had for the first twenty years of the AIDS epidemic. With the special session, it could take extraordinary action in making a commitment to turn back the epidemic's tide by greatly increasing the resources to fight it. Already this morning, Uganda had been among the countries making pledges to the Global Fund. Perhaps that meant the difference between donor and recipient countries was fading. Maybe the terms donor and recipient should be relegated to the "dustbins of history".
He said the success of the special session would be judged by what happened in countries after the session ended, based on the strong declaration that would be issued and already existed. There should be no surprise that reaching consensus on that declaration was difficult since the issues themselves were difficult. The behaviors and social issues driving the AIDS epidemic were not easy to discuss.
UNICEF's Carol Bellamy said HIV/AIDS preyed on children, who were not just victims but also the key to conquering the disease. Over 4.3 million of the
20 million people who had died of AIDS had been children. Young people now accounted for half of all new infections. It was estimated that a child was orphaned by AIDS at the rate of one every 14 seconds. Young people needed the information, education and services to enable them to help each other with information they now don't have. Finally, UNICEF had particularly high hopes for the special session's success because it could be tied in with the special session on children coming up in September.
Mark Malloch Brown said the special session provided a number of good story angles for the media. One was the debate over whether prevention or treatment of AIDS should be emphasized. Another was the cultural war over the references to the categories of those at risk. The size of the Fund would provide good material for a story as well. But a fourth story to be noted was the issue of country ownership. The Presidents who were speaking at the special session were frontline generals in the war on AIDS. They were leading extraordinary efforts in the political and social mobilization of resources that required a staggering scale of re-budgeting. The special session would have to empower those field generals to
mount an effective response. The follow-up mechanisms to the special session should be rooted in the single rationale that the fight required country responses. It needed political leadership at the country level as well as the financial resources from outside to support that country leadership.
Ms. Brundtland (WHO) said the special session illustrated the urgent need for "scaling up" starting at the country level because all people lived in countries. It was a joint responsibility to help countries rise to the expectations of their people because of the dimensions of the threat that affected everyone. Young people were the focus and they needed to be given access to both services and information. Further, the information had to be truthful. Although action had to be at the country level with both governments and civil society participating, costs had to be shared. All available evidence about what works also had to be shared. One factor definitely known to work was arming young people with information through peer education. Today in many countries, more than half the young people between the ages of 15 and 24 did not know how to protect themselves.
In response to questions concerning the declaration to be issued by the special session, Ms. Cleves of UNAIDS said it was unlikely that a consensus document would fail to be issued. Asked to elaborate on the problems of language, she said there was dissent over whether to list the categories of people vulnerable to AIDS, such as homosexual men and sex workers, or whether to list circumstances such as the problem of AIDS among the displaced. Asked for clarification on the political basis for those two positions, UNDP's Mr. Brown said everybody agreed that certain groups were vulnerable. There was disagreement on how much help some of those groups should receive since some countries considered some vulnerabilities to be self-determined.
Was it true that the United States had been behind the removal of language related to vulnerable groups even though Arab countries were the ones most opposed to that language? a correspondent asked. No, the speakers responded. Each group had its own issues related to language, whether it was Catholics, Europeans or the SADAK countries.
Regarding the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, Ms. Cleves of UNAIDS said 7 to 10 billion dollars had become known as the target goal for the resources needed to fight the epidemic. Much more was needed in addition to that amount, for example in the form of money governments would have to expend. Mechanisms for disbursing the funds had not yet been discussed. The goal amount for the Fund had been determined according to certain parameters based on information provided by the results of existing responses to AIDS and by projections about needs.
Since most of the money in the Fund would come from developed countries, which hadn't even paid up on the commitments made to official development assistance (ODA), what hope was there for receiving contribution to the Global Fund? a correspondent asked. The ODA target had been set many years ago, UNAIDS' Ms. Cleves said. The lack of willingness to take on the provision of assistance to others had been disappointing. However, the new Fund aimed at a very targeted goal could turn the tide on that unwillingness by getting governments and the private sector to cooperate and contribute to efforts.
What assurance was there that monies from the Fund would reach the grass roots workers in the fight against AIDS? speakers were asked. That question was as old as development itself, Mr. Malloch Brown said. The key term was that in this case, efforts needed to be "scaled up". Fighting AIDS was not a top down issue. Governments would simply fall if the effort on AIDS wasn't carried out in the right way. UNICEF's Ms. Bellamy agreed, saying the effort needed to mobilize all actors in a country, both governmental and non-governmental.
Had any progress been made in promoting the idea of canceling debts so that countries could use that money to fight AIDS? a journalist asked. UNDP's
Mr. Brown said AIDS had been factored in as part of what needed to be done in the countries being helped. However, fighting AIDS through debt forgiveness was a mirage because it wouldn't work. Only new resources would work.
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