General Assembly Plenary
Twenty-sixth Special Session
5th & 6th Meetings (PM & Night)
GOVERNMENTS EXPRESS SUPPORT FOR PROPOSED DECLARATION OF COMMITMENT AND GLOBAL
FUND FOR HIV/AIDS, AS GENERAL ASSEMBLY SPECIAL SESSION CONTINUES DEBATE
Assembly Secretary Announces That Member States
Have Reached Agreement on Draft Declaration of Commitment
During the general debate in the General Assembly’s special session on HIV/AIDS this afternoon and evening, representatives continued to express strong support for the proposed at Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, as well as for the Secretary-General's initiative to create a Global Fund for HIV/AIDS. Today, it was announced that Austria will contribute $1 million to the Global Fund.
Israel's representative announced that his government was launching an all-out effort to contribute to the global fight against HIV/AIDS. As such, he offered his country's expertise in the fields of technology transfer, modern agriculture, socio-economic development, medicine and public health, community development and education. Israel, he said, had also explored the possibility of a Compact Mobile Unit to provide preventive assistance, diagnostic and clinical support, and mother-and-child care in remote areas.
Also this evening the Secretary of the General Assembly’s twenty-sixth special session on HIV/AIDS announced that Member States today reached an agreement on the wording of a draft Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, as the session continued its general exchange of views. He said that the text would be available in all official languages tomorrow morning, in time for action on its adoption before the close of the session tomorrow night.
Many of the high officials and other representatives who spoke today depicted the situation in regions that had not been the focus of previous sessions. The Minister of Health and Social Security of Dominica said that despite their best national and regional efforts, the rates of infection in the Caribbean are second only to sub-Saharan Africa.
Reiterating that point, the Minister of Planning, Implementation and Public Service Affairs of Antigua and Barbuda said the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the wider Caribbean was threatening to reverse all developmental gains. He proposed the establishment of a Global AIDS Council whose members would act as advocates to procure investment and commitment for HIV/AIDS prevention and cure.
"No one, not even those of us in the remote Himalayas, can escape HIV/AIDS," the Minister for Health and Education of Bhutan said, as a number of speakers
expressed the concerns of their respective countries, which had not experienced the epidemic in the same magnitude as other areas, and outlined their strategies to prevent the spread of the virus.
The Minister of Health of Sri Lanka said that, although his country has a currently low rate of infection, many extant factors could fuel an epidemic of HIV/AIDS if appropriate action is not taken to thwart such a disaster. For example, a large portion of the population was sexually active; there was much migration because of employment or conflict. There was also much narcotics usage, poverty and a lack of education. "Unless we meet the challenge of prevention," he warned, "we will face the same repercussions as our African brethren are facing today".
Also this afternoon, the Assembly was informed that, in place of the Deputy Minister of Health of Malaysia, the chairman of the third round table would be the Minister of Health of Pakistan.
Statements were also made this afternoon and evening by the Prime Ministers of Chad, Cameroon, Comoros and the Vice-President of Malawi.
In addition, ministers and high government officials of Poland, Indonesia, Sao Tome and Principe, Venezuela, Madagascar, Eritrea, Iraq, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Qatar, Slovakia, Congo, and Liberia also spoke.
Also addressing the Assembly were the representatives of San Marino, Tajikistan, Bulgaria, Malta, Oman, Hungary, Yemen, Haiti, Nepal, Austria, Libya, Georgia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, United Arab Emirates, and Latvia.
The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 27 June to continue its special session on HIV/AIDS.
The General Assembly met this afternoon, on the second day of its work, to continue its special session on HIV/AIDS. (For background information, see Press Release AIDS/22 issued on 21 June.)
NAGOUM YAMASSOUM, Prime Minister of Chad: After the meeting of the Organization of African Unity heads of State and Government in Abuja last April, the special session is confronting, at the highest possible level, the greatest challenge confronting humankind at the beginning of the new century: HIV/AIDS. The goal of the session is to inspire the international community to take concerted action to combat the epidemic, intensify international action and, most importantly, mobilize resources towards that end.
In its efforts to deal with the spread of HIV/AIDS, Chad has undertaken numerous actions, formulated a medium-term plan to combat the disease and formulated national policies against AIDS, as well as taking part in regional efforts. We are confident the conclusions of this session will inspire Chad to continue its strategy.
The disease has no borders, and it is imperative to strengthen international efforts against it. Many developing countries require the support of the international community in their efforts. Such support is not entirely lacking, with various initiatives under way, but countries like Chad need extra support in achieving access to drugs. The impact of AIDS is a decisive element in the vicious circle of poverty, which can be broken only with the help of additional resources. The proposal to create a special fund for AIDS has the approval of Chad.
PETER MAFANY MUSONGE, Prime Minister of Cameroon (on behalf of Paul Biya, head of State): In Africa, the continent hardest hit by the epidemic, AIDS is no longer a mere public health problem; it has become a development problem. The seriousness of the situation in Cameroon, with 11 per cent of its population infected, has led the Government to adopt a national strategic plan that involves all sectors.
The strategy involves both prevention and treatment activities and has received technical and financial support from the United Nations system. We thank the international community for their assistance, but we share the concerns of other developing countries, on the urgent need to increase funding, as well as the need of access by the poor to health care and drugs. Cameroon unreservedly supports the Abuja Declaration and the global fund, saluting all those who have already announced contributions. Cameroon also advocates lower prices for relevant drugs, and supports a useful interpretation of the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement.
JUSTIN MALEWEZI, Vice-President of Malawi: The hope for Africa lies in the uninfected youth, who account for more than 50 per cent of the population throughout the continent. The success of our national programmes will, therefore, depend on keeping the youth HIV-negative. This is the greatest challenge facing leaders throughout the world, and this needs our collective energy. Empowering young people with information about HIV/AIDS is helping to reduce transmission. Young people are the most effective voice in promoting responsible sexual behaviour among the youth.
Expanding access to education will be a key strategy in keeping the youth HIV-negative. Education equips and empowers young people to capture and internalize relevant knowledge, and to transform it into behaviour change. Girls' education is an absolute priority in this regard. Addressing gender inequality is also a key strategy to reduce the rate of transmission of HIV/AIDS. Women are more vulnerable because of their low employment status and security, as well as lower incomes. Therefore, empowering women economically and educationally is key to reducing the spread of the epidemic. Changing men's sexual behaviour is also a crucial component in the fight to prevent the spread of the epidemic.
African countries carry two burdens -- HIV/AIDS and external debt. The
$227 billion debt burden remains a pervasive obstacle to Africa's capacity to address other issues and diverts scarce foreign exchange from the fight against poverty and HIV/AIDS. While the fund-raising initiative for poor countries is welcome, it is inadequate to meet the urgent need to expand investment in basic social services and in HIV prevention and care. If the international community is serious about promoting human rights and addressing the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, debt cancellation is a moral imperative.
GRZEGORZ OPALA, Minister of Health, Poland: There is an explosive growth of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the region of central and Eastern Europe. Infections will probably spread further in this region as a result of a large number of intravenous drug users, increasing rates of sexually transmitted infections, the burgeoning sex industry, and the side-effects of socio-economic transition.
Despite these trends, even countries with modest resources such as Poland, have demonstrated that the epidemic can be stabilized or reversed. In Poland successful programmes have included strong, high-level political leadership for HIV/AIDS prevention, a national plan, adequate funding with allocation of resources, and strong community involvement. The increase in infection and deaths has also led to increasing aid from governments, and international and national organizations as well as foundations.
As the world grows smaller because of developments in transportation, communication, trade and commercial activity, insight into emerging infections such as HIV/AIDS becomes increasingly important to others besides public health practitioners. In this situation, we are faced with multi-sectoral contributions to the international efforts to address the disease. The epidemic is a global problem and addressing its consequences for vulnerable groups and societies worldwide requires an international response. Cooperation on both the global and regional levels is essential to effectively integrate and harmonize different strategies. This will also help strengthen efforts to fight HIV/AIDS and defray treatment costs.
ACHMAD SUJUDI, Minister of Health and Social Welfare of Indonesia: In Indonesia, it is estimated that as of mid-year 2001, approximately 80,000 to 120,000 people will have become infected with HIV/AIDS. My country is increasingly concerned that conditions favouring an increase of HIV in Indonesia are soaring. These include poverty, high-risk sexual behaviour, a prevalence of sexually transmitted infections, intravenous drug use and increased mobility of the population that leads to increased transmission.
Nationwide, our focus is on early intervention and it is being done through the promotion of abstinence and fidelity, without neglecting the promotion of safe sex among people with high-risk sexual behaviour. Likewise, relevant laws with respect to drug abuse are being implemented and risk reduction activities are being initiated based on the socio-religious and cultural background of Indonesians. This is not an easy task. The country's far-flung geography, its large population and diverse cultural backgrounds present a number of obstacles, including barriers in communication and in access.
Another serious obstacle facing the country is the ongoing effort to cope with the consequences of the economic crisis that has devastated our country. That has forced Indonesia to prioritize the allocation of its limited resources, making it extremely difficult to increase the coverage and comprehensiveness of the national AIDS programme, including providing adequate HIV test kits and affordable anti-retroviral drugs. However, given the difficulties, we remain fully committed to doing our utmost and our activities will be focused on prevention and the provision of comprehensive care and support.
ANTONIO MARQUES DE LIMA, Minister of Health and Sports of Sao Tome and Principe: When some 20 years ago the first cases of HIV/AIDS appeared, few could have imagined the real impact of the disease. In fact, according to the statistics, Africa alone accounts for an estimated 14 million deaths from AIDS. It is Africa, which bears the brunt of the burden of HIV/AIDS. In some countries, health expenditures have quadrupled. The situation is compounded by the existence of an astounding number of AIDS orphans.
In April this year, I had an opportunity to participate in the Abuja Summit on HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, where the leaders of Africa made a decision to confront the situation and fight the disease. Now more than ever, those leaders are determined to prevent the spread of the disease on the African continent. But while our will to act is huge, our means are meager. Poverty is the most reliable ally of the disease, and it is no secret to anyone that where the population has a per capita income of less than $1 a day, a child is five times more likely to die before the age of five than in a developed country. This makes African countries pay particular attention to anti-AIDS programmes. This is the challenge, which we cannot shirk.
In the struggle against AIDS we cannot and must not remain alone, however. The solidarity of the international community is urgently needed. It is needed to provide access to treatment, including anti-retroviral drugs, to the populations of the poor countries, bringing about control of the disease. The pharmaceutical companies should not remain on the side of these efforts. In this respect, it is noteworthy that Pfizer corporation has agreed at the beginning of June to provide free of charge drugs against two opportunistic diseases to the world’s 50 poorest countries. Such an example should be followed by others.
MARIA URBANEJA, Minister of Health and Social Development of Venezuela: We are hoping that real actions will result from the solidarity being created here. In Venezuela, we have tackled the problem from a rights point of view, that is, the right to health. We are sorry that the declaration does not recognize this sort of approach. Our commitment, in Venezuela, has grown heavily in the past year, with our comprehensive care and preventive measures. But resources are being stretched. We are negotiating with companies to lower drug prices, and investigating local production of those drugs.
In prevention, we have focused on education of young people, complemented by the efforts of civil society organizations. We must do more to protect women and their children, and do more work with heavily infected populations. Organized civil society is essential to all these initiatives in Venezuela.
We support the declaration to be issued from this special session, as well as the global fund proposed by the Secretary-General. We hope that an equitable means of distributing those funds will be developed. HIV/AIDS has global implications. We are all silently exposed to this sickness and must overcome all obstacles to conquer it.
HENRIETTE RATSIMBAZAFIMAHEFA RAHANTALALAO, Minister of Health, Madagascar: Many efforts have been made so far to address the problem of HIV/AIDS. There have been many meetings, summits and conferences which resulted in clearly-voiced good intentions. What has been done has been done well. Yet the spread of AIDS continues unchecked in countries including my own.
Madagascar is an island and its insular character can thus be considered a protective element. Despite our low prevalence, in 1988 we undertook initiatives to combat AIDS. Yet the disease has still managed to increase 100 per cent since then. Great importance is therefore attached to stepping up our national campaign. Coordination of this campaign is now accorded the highest priority. We are convinced that such an undertaking is not a matter exclusively for the State.
Partnerships and international cooperation find their true meaning today as we all seek to negate the effects of this illness in our respective countries. Alleviation of the external debt of many countries will also make it possible for these nations to release more funds to combat HIV/AIDS. We have great hopes for this special session. We wish it a successful culmination and expect that it will be followed by specific acts and deeds.
LYONPO SANGAY NGEDUP, Minister for Health and Education of Bhutan: As we discuss HIV/AIDS as a global priority, we must avoid mindsets that trap us in the past, such as professional competition which hampers the sharing of medical advances, lack of political commitment and lack of dedicated resources. We know we need courage to support the helpless, to protect the young and innocent, to counsel those already infected, and to comfort those who lose their loved ones.
No one, not even those of us in the remote Himalayas, can escape HIV/AIDS. While our number of people infected is relatively small, we are acutely concerned about the implications for our small population in a region where the epidemic is spreading at an alarming rate. Since 1988, we have given the strongest political commitment to meeting this challenge, with a multi-sectoral STD/AIDS control programme. More than 25 per cent of the Government’s budget is allocated to the social sector. Health and education services are provided free.
Bhutan fully supports the Global Fund for AIDS and health, hoping that the funding be targeted to an integrated primary care approach, giving equal emphasis to prevention and treatment. We should note the success of the no-nonsense approach of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. All nations must show their strongest political commitment to fight this scourge.
SALEH MEKY, Minister of Health, Eritrea: Eritrea is still within the range of a controllable stage of HIV/AIDS, and concerted effort is being brought to bear at this crucial moment in the developing saga of the epidemic. My Government has taken a leadership role and made a strong commitment to address this challenge with all the resources at its disposal. In the past five years it put into operation an effective national policy on AIDS, established multi-sectoral committees, and requested its development partners to assist it in all the multiple approaches to controlling this danger to the people.
The greatest adverse effect of the HIV/AIDS infection may be its impact on the health services of any country. The need for continuous medical care for opportunistic infections, and the well-being of those affected by diseases, will inevitably stretch the existing resources of all nations. This special session must address the need to make affordable and accessible drugs available to all those in need.
The danger is real, the task immense, but no less is our determination to succeed in this effort, because the future of our community, and society as we know it, is at risk.
UMAID MUBARAK, Minister of Health of Iraq: The spread of AIDS primarily in countries of limited resources, and particularly in Africa, indicates that its spread is one of the consequences of deteriorating economic situations. It also illustrates that the level of technical and financial support provided by the United Nations and the international community to fight AIDS clearly does not rise to the challenge.
Despite the unjust sanctions imposed on it for 11 years, Iraq is considered one of the countries with a low infection rate of HIV/AIDS due to the awareness-raising programmes and health care provided by the Government. The difficulty now is in the shortages of diagnostic equipment and not being able to keep pace with the new scientific advances and new discoveries because of the obstacles created by the United States and the United Kingdom in the 661 (1991) Sanctions Committee to import such materials to Iraq. This has led to obstruction in implementing activities of preventive medical procedures and early diagnosis.
Our national plan concentrates on awareness and education, offering sterilizations and testing donated blood before transfusion to ensure its safety, as well as care for patients and virus carriers. The plan gives priority to those infected and provides special health and social care through guidance and treatment centers throughout the country in addition to financial support and free medications despite the difficulties with regard to the lack of medical supplies. Iraq calls on the international community to take effective steps to put an end to the use of coercive economic measures as a means of pressure on people, and depriving them of their right to obtain food and medicine.
CHAN SOO SEN, Senior Parliamentary Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Health, Singapore: My country has made prevention of AIDS a key priority and we have adopted a comprehensive multi-sectoral national AIDS control programme. HIV/AIDS education is provided to all sectors of the population through the mass media, while more structured programmes are available for students, young people, national servicemen who serve in the armed forces and others who are vulnerable to infection. Individuals who perceive themselves to be at risk of infection are also encouraged to undergo HIV/AIDS screening.
Stringent measures are undertaken to safeguard the national blood supply. There is a rigorous selection process and all potential blood donors are interviewed and required to declare that they are not and have not been involved in high-risk activities associated with HIV/AIDS infection. Those who make false declarations are liable to prosecution. All blood and related products are screened for HIV as well. Infected people are given access to subsidized outpatient and inpatient medical treatment and are given counselling regularly. They are also given access to treatment drugs, which unfortunately, like many non-standard drugs for the treatment of other ailments, are not subsidized.
The Government also works closely with community groups to raise their awareness of HIV/AIDS and prevent discrimination against patients and their families. At regional and international levels, our Ministry of Health cooperates with Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the World Health Organization and UNAIDS and provides them with regular updates on the HIV/AIDS situation in Singapore. In the absence of a cure or a vaccine, Singapore believes education and prevention programmes remain the keys to reducing transmission of the virus. The cooperation of the public, private and civil sectors will be vital in reducing the spread of the disease.
LESTER ROSS, Permanent Secretary of Health and Medical Services of the Solomon Islands: Although the Solomon Islands has a relatively low record of HIV/AIDS cases, we cannot afford to be complacent. With a sexually active and mobile population, there is potential for further spread of infection. For a small island developing State like ours, whose most vital resource is its people, the AIDS pandemic is a serious and direct threat to human security and to social and economic development. It is a new and lethal source of vulnerability, which exacerbates existing environmental and economic vulnerabilities.
To a country still recovering from a two-year ethnic crisis, an outbreak of the disease would be completely devastating. Care and treatment would be extremely difficult to afford. Therefore, my delegation firmly believes that prevention must be the mainstay in combating HIV/AIDS. My Government has already undertaken a number of measures and preventive strategies, having adopted a multi-sectoral plan to combat HIV/AIDS. We have to institutionalize HIV/AIDS education and expand awareness-raising activities in the rural areas, taking into account cultural sensitivities. However, there are also such factors as lack of resources and of trained personnel; communication and information dissemination problems due to the diversity of local languages; low levels of literacy; and geography.
Substantial financial resources are required to effectively implement national plans and strategies. If HIV/AIDS is a disease of poverty, ignorance, sexual promiscuity and gender discrimination, a global strategy to combat it must integrate balanced and practical measures to confront all those issues. Concerted national action and multilateral cooperation in both prevention and care are fundamental. The global pandemic can only be tackled by a global campaign, which should include prevention and control aspects, protect human rights, provide better care and improve access to services. Above all, we need to develop an effective and affordable vaccine to stop further infections.
GIAN NICOLA FILIPPI BALESTRA (San Marino): Let us put ourselves in the situation of an HIV/AIDS victim. Among our concerns would be the way we might have contracted the virus; our family; those we could have transmitted the disease to. We may also think about the reaction of society and friends. Will we be able to pay for drugs to increase the length of our lives? Those are the questions that 36.1 million people asked themselves every single day last year.
How many answers and reassurances are we able to give them? AIDS concerns all of us, regardless of our origins, race, habits, sex life or culture. If we consider that in some countries one out of five adults is infected by the AIDS virus, we can easily imagine it can jeopardize not only the lives of many families, but also the life of a country, of a region, and of the whole world.
Infected people in San Marino generally contracted AIDS through exchange of needles while injecting drugs. Due to the small size of my country and lack of appropriate legislation, most HIV/AIDS patients prefer to be treated abroad in the interests of privacy and secrecy. My Government has begun an information campaign and created a coordination policy to monitor any development of the infection, as well as a system of surveillance of blood donors. Cooperation between the public structure and volunteer associations is an important tool. Every year since 1998, the Ministry of Health of San Marino has organized an international symposium with the participation of many important immunologists.
We strongly believe that the best form of prevention is a comprehensive education programme. Responsibility must be equally shared: Governments should provide treatment, assistance, care and support to the patients. The patients themselves should act with a greater sense of responsibility towards their communities. There should be timely and accurate exchange of information. Pharmaceutical companies and research institutions should devote more efforts to research, giving priority to access to drugs.
RASHID ALIMON, Tajikistan: The spread of HIV/AIDS has been exacerbated by poverty, ignorance, and gender discrimination and has had a particularly negative impact on women and children and the future of mankind. We have taken legislative and strategic measures to control the epidemic in Tajikistan through the year 2007, working with UNAIDS. A National Centre has been founded and, together with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), we have targeted an awareness programme towards youths.
The root causes of the problem lie in the weaknesses of the social, economic and health systems of countries. In Tajikistan, conflicts have weakened the health system, and programmes are now attempting to enhance it. But those programmes require assistance. Other communicable diseases are increasing, and the drug trade in the region also poses a threat. The national plan of action to combat drugs, instituted with regional and United Nations cooperation, will have positive results for the fight against AIDS.
Support for health infrastructure is crucial as part of a multi-sectoral effort to stem the spread of the disease. It is also extremely important to include, in the Declaration resulting from this special session, measures to combat drug use. The Declaration should include, in addition, the concerns of countries which are not yet the worst affected.
STEFAN TAFROV, Chairman of the delegation of Bulgaria: The struggle against HIV/AIDS demands radical and sustained change on the part of every individual and every institution. The role of civil society is crucial.
At this stage, Bulgaria has a low level of cases, and it has developed a strategy to try to keep it from rising. We are convinced that the key to any national strategy is close international and regional cooperation. An analysis of our situation has been done with the active support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), allowing the elaboration of a prevention and control programme through the year 2007. Priority action is directed towards youths as well as vulnerable groups, such as the Roma minority and intravenous drug users. Health services and specialized social services are particularly important for this policy. Financing of this programme is entirely provided by the state, with the United Nations system acting as a partner.
To fight this planetary phenomenon, we must join all our efforts together despite any religious or political differences. To the extent of its capacities, Bulgaria is ready to contribute to the global response to this pandemic.
YEHUDA LANCRY (Israel): Israel is ready to contribute to the global AIDS effort following the decision of the Foreign Ministry last January to fully engage in the international fight against the disease. During this special session, Israel will explore ways to contribute its skills and expertise to the international effort. Its capabilities in the fields of technology transfer, modern agriculture, socio-economic development, medicine and public health, community development and education are available. We have also explored the possibility of a Compact Mobile Unit that provides preventive assistance, diagnostic and clinical support, and mother-and-child care in areas difficult to reach.
Israel is capable of consulting and assisting in the establishment of institutions for AIDS orphans in the light of its unique experience dealing with youth immigration and youth educational institutions. We are ready and willing to do all we can, and are committed to forging partnerships to enable our expertise to be most usefully employed.
Israel has a relatively low prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS. Nevertheless, we have developed an extensive infrastructure to test, treat, educate and care for infected individuals. The Ministry of Health has developed comprehensive educational programmes focusing on preventing infection. It provides treatment and follow-up for those already infected, including universally available anti-retroviral cocktails, provided at little cost to the patient. Our partnerships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has also been fruitful.
It has been nothing less than chilling to listen to the speakers in this debate citing the devastating figures that chart the advance of AIDS. In the face of this, it is easy to despair. But we dare not. Let us ensure that this special session produces genuine results, and that we are constantly reminded that the success of this session will be measured in something no less precious than human life.
WALTER BALZAN (Malta): Although in Malta the statistics of those infected with HIV is minimal, and the situation is seemingly under control, studies indicate that the generation born and raised during the last twenty years lacks sufficient knowledge about sexual matters or is rather misinformed. This dangerous situation can be remedied only through a comprehensive sex education programme, as an integral part of the national curriculum. Education is complemented by awareness raising campaigns targeting those who have already left the classroom. The use of media to promote safe sex enables the health authorities to reach the maximum audience. The central role played by the family in the national preventive strategy is to be emphasized.
In all aspects and phases of the fight against the epidemic, the respect for human rights cannot be overlooked. Reducing vulnerability through the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms is the cornerstone of any effective campaign. This goes hand in hand with efforts aimed at reducing stigma, discrimination and social exclusion. Children and women, being particularly vulnerable, deserve special attention. In drawing up policies and strategies, we must ensure that these vulnerable groups remain high on our agenda. In addition, those most at risk must be encouraged to seek testing and counselling.
Apart from the devastating loss of life, this pandemic leads to tremendous negative social and economic repercussions. The drain on the best and most productive elements of society not only impacts negatively on our present generation, but jeopardizes potential development and future resources.
FUAD MUBARAK AL-HINAI (Oman): Rapid socio-economic changes coupled with demographic transition in my country have led to a remarkable change in the profile of health problems and risks that are now facing the population. Thus non-communicable diseases, life style disorders and emerging diseases are becoming leading causes for concern. While the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Oman is low, the Government is not allowing this fact to be a cause for complacency at home or indifference to the global epidemic. Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS have commended Oman on its transparency in sharing information on the disease and on the performance of its national HIV/AIDS programme that applies internationally recommended strategies to combat the problem.
Oman’s HIV/AIDS control programme was launched in 1987 with an overall strategy of raising public awareness, mobilizing national resources and enhancing international collaboration in order to prevent and control the problem. Since then it has conducted a national communication and information dissemination campaign on the problem and its associated risk behaviour. It also continues to work diligently to combat fear, stigma and discrimination. We have consolidated and strengthened blood safety, encouraged voluntary testing and counselling, and built a surveillance and information system to document infection, disease status and trends.
While the pharmaceutical industry is to be commended for the concessions offered so far -– in regard to reduced pricing of drugs -- the plight of victims is calling on them for more. The international community is also obliged to boost and coordinate its scientific and research efforts towards the development of an effective vaccine which would enhance efforts to conquer this menace.
ALAN PINTER, Chief Medical Officer of Hungary: The present data clearly indicate that the HIV/AIDS epidemic has been kept at a relatively low level in Hungary from the time of its first detection up to now. This has partly been the result of strict epidemiological measures, introduced immediately after the appearance of the first HIV positive cases in 1985, and the consistent attitude of the Hungarian authorities during that period. Hungary has constantly followed a practice in line with the main principles described in the draft Declaration that we are called on to adopt at this special session.
It is acknowledged that prevention, care, support and treatment are inseparable and mutually reinforcing interventions. With the help of education and the media, nation-wide preventive programmes and intensive campaigns have been organized, financed and implemented with the strong involvement of civil society. Following this practice has proved to be successful in Hungary so far. Possibilities for early detection of HIV infection, as well as recent developments in the area of anti-retroviral therapy, hold out hopes of reducing the burden of the disease all over the world. Efforts should be made to provide the highest possible standard of treatment for HIV/AIDS in all countries.
ABDALLA SALEH AL-ASHTAL (Yemen): At the outset of the epidemic, we never could have imagined the scope of tragedy; today, 36 million people have been infected with HIV/AIDS. Our era enjoys the fruits of technology and innovation, but mankind has not yet found a vaccine to stop the epidemic. Even if the medicine were found, its cost would be prohibitive to the developing countries. Today we face a global emergency, and we must act to overcome it.
The fight against the disaster of AIDS is not limited to the search for medicines. It also includes the search for a solution to economic problems, for AIDS has affected the family, the food security and development of many countries, threatening the stability of the whole human society. In this context, the Declaration to be adopted by the special session acquires special significance. The Government of Yemen supports the proposal to create a global health fund, but the resources constitute a mere beginning.
The international community must find a solution to the problem of poverty and address the issues of debt and development assistance. My delegation believes that this meeting is an event of historic importance, which has other ramifications, besides those of health. Yemen has taken all the necessary steps to fight AIDS. By consolidating the participation of all sectors of society, with assistance from the United Nations, the country has formed a national committee to combat the epidemic. Raising awareness and provision of social assistance to young people, women and children are among the priorities. My country is convinced that the battle against AIDS will be successful only if efforts are made to provide education and treatment, eradicate poverty, involve the infected and prevent mother-to-child infection.
MILDRED TROUILLOT ARISTIDE, Chairperson of the delegation of Haiti: The current resolution of Haiti’s political crisis, with the aid of the Organization of American States (OAS), should reinforce the idea among the international community of the links between democracy, the fight against poverty and the fight against AIDS. That epidemic is a devastating burden on the people, economy and socio-political development of poor countries.
Haiti is one of the worst-affected countries in its region, with between
4.5 per cent and 6 per cent of its population infected. As a result, the National Strategic Plan for the years 2002-2006 has full Government participation at the highest levels, as well as participation of the private sector. As the overall emphasis of the Government’s efforts is growth in harmony with human development, an important part is the reorganization and improvement of the national health system, and the decentralization of its services. Resources in the health sector are insufficient, but in cooperation with partners, a programme against infectious diseases has been instituted. Non-governmental organizations can help, but the Government must be involved in the planning. That involvement is difficult when we do not have resources to guarantee many of the basic human rights.
The struggle against HIV/AIDS is the greatest challenge to humanity in the new century. With that in mind, I welcome the Secretary-General’s creation of the Global Fund. All sectors must work every day against HIV/AIDS, with even a simple gesture of solidarity every day. We must join together in the effort at the global, regional, national, and individual levels.
MURARI RAJ SHARMA (Nepal): Today, the world sits on so much wealth, knowledge and technology that collectively we can combat the epidemic. At a time when anti-retroviral therapies and the growing awareness about safer sex are bringing down infection in rich countries, this pandemic is spreading like a wildfire in poor countries. If left unchecked, it threatens economic development, social cohesion, political stability and food security in many States, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, but increasingly in Asia and elsewhere. Hence, taking comprehensive, concrete and urgent action becomes critical to contain, and eventually eradicate, this deadly pestilence.
Nepal is estimated to have nearly 50,000 young people with HIV infection and 2,500 with full-blown AIDS. Poverty and ignorance lie at the root of this menace. Every year, impoverished men seeking employment abroad and young women victims of trafficking return from abroad with this terrible infection. Together with the sex workers and their clients, they constitute the overwhelming majority of the afflicted, followed by injecting drug abusers and by children inheriting infection from their mothers.
We broadly concur with the priorities for action outlined in the Secretary-General’s report and welcome the initiative to set up a global fund to help prevent and treat HIV/AIDS. Assuaging the pain of the patients and making drugs affordable in poor countries must be our immediate focus.
With its limited resources, Nepal has been trying to wrestle with the growing epidemic, but what it has been able to do is far too little to confront the horrendous disease on a sustained basis. As a least developed country, Nepal needs external assistance to do the job. We, therefore, appeal to the international community to live up to its commitments made in various global compacts.
HUBERT HARTL (Austria): Austria first reacted to the challenge of HIV/AIDS in 1986 by passing its own AIDS legislation, the focus of which is prevention -- with consulting and information efforts placed in the foreground -- in order to avoid the dissemination of the infection. Among other things, the law regulates the notification of AIDS cases, which has to be effected anonymously. For the last 15 years, the Federal Ministry for Social Security and Generations has also committed itself to inform the public about AIDS. Both the population as well as individual target groups with high-risk behaviour were and are sufficiently informed on the origins of HIV and prevention.
Since the prevention of AIDS requires flexible concepts, continuous prevention efforts of non-governmental organizations is considered a significant cornerstone in Austrian AIDS prevention. In a country with a total population of over 8 million people, 2,096 AIDS cases have been reported since 1985, of whom 1,269 have died. Estimates of those with HIV infections range from 10,000 to 15,000.
The Government decided, despite a tight budget and a general savings policy, to give financial support to the United Nations for the fight against HIV/AIDS, in particular in the most affected regions. In this context, I have the privilege to inform you that Austria will contribute $1 million to the Global Fund.
The PRESIDENT announced that the meeting was concluded, and that the Assembly would resume its special session at its sixth meeting at 7 p.m.
When the Assembly’s sixth plenary meeting began this evening, the first speaker was AHAMADA BOLERO, Prime Minister of Comoros: Because of the devastating effect of AIDS, there is a need for global mobilization and stronger action in the struggle against the epidemic. Account must be taken not only of the loss of human lives, the weakening of the productive sectors of society and the effect of AIDS on development, but also the cultural and social aspects of the problem. The efforts to ensure financial accessibility of medicines, and to provide care, must go hand in hand with moral support for the infected. The efforts must be redoubled in certain regions, including Africa where the toll of AIDS is particularly grave.
In Comoros, the AIDS epidemic is a cause of serious concern. The country is exposed to the disease as a result of its geographical position and the development of tourism. So far, 61 persons have been the carriers of HIV, and
25 people have died of AIDS. The country has set up an organizational structure to address the problem. The plan of action, designed with the help of UNAIDS, includes measures to prevent transmission through information, ensuring transfusion security, mobilizing the communities and education.
Parents are being taught about the dangers of AIDS. Religious figures and others are involved in the efforts. However, the Government is faced with many obstacles, mainly of economic and financial nature. Comoros is appealing for greater international solidarity. The embargo imposed against one of the Comoros Islands -– Anjouan -- makes it more difficult to carry out the plan against AIDS.
JOHN SENEVIRATNE, Minister of Health of Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka, although it has a currently low rate of infection, has many factors which could fuel a major epidemic of HIV/AIDS if appropriate action is not taken to thwart such a disaster. A majority of the population is in sexually active categories, there is internal and external migration and displacement because of employment or conflict. There is also narcotics usage, poverty and a lack of education. Some neighbouring countries are already confronting the disease in its epidemic proportions. Unless we meet the challenge of prevention, we will face the same repercussions as our African brethren are facing today.
We have, in other words, learned the great cost of complacence. Because of this, the Government of Sri Lanka is working on all aspects of that challenge, targeting, especially the most vulnerable groups such as the tourist sector, the sexual trade, the armed forces, the migratory work force, the poor, the youth and drug users. Action has been taken on blood policy and other infrastructure have been acted on. Promotion of condom use and anti-retroviral drugs have also been addressed by the Government.
I urge the United Nations to seriously address the issue of the provision of drugs and diagnostics at an affordable price to those countries that are less fortunate, and to extend further assistance in establishing an Asian AIDS and Health Fund and Asian Partnership against HIV/AIDS that includes all sectors and is based on mutual agreement, shared vision, and trust. Every effort should be undertaken to reverse the spread of HIV. This would not only reduce human suffering, but also assist in social and economic development.
HAJAR AHMD HAJAR AL-BANALI, Minister of Public Health of Qatar: we have diagnosed 164 cases of HIV/AIDS during the last 20 years. Most of them acquired the virus from transfusion of blood imported before 1985. Although our numbers seem to be small, the relatively small number of our population -- about 600,000 -- makes every newly discovered case a disaster.
Qatar provides all the necessary medical services and support for people living with HIV/AIDS, including anti-retroviral therapy, and psychological and social counselling for patients and their families. We are convinced that the best way to prevent the spread of the disease is through increasing awareness among the population. The Qatari society remains mostly religious and conservative, which helps in limiting the spread of the disease.
This ravaging spread of HIV throughout the world requires that we stand up together and take up the responsibility as a whole, and get rid of the notion that this disease is someone else’s responsibility. Therefore, Qatar supports the taking of several steps, including providing more financial resources from developed nations in addition to the commitment of the G7 countries to write off some of the debts carried by countries afflicted by HIV/AIDS. Also important is exchanging expertise on HIV/AIDS prevention to limit the spread of the virus using all necessary means and tools, including the availability of condoms and sterile syringes.
ROMAN KOVAC, Minister of Health of Slovakia: Slovakia associates itself with the statement made by Sweden on behalf of the European Union. On the national level, Slovakia, like several Central European Countries, has been experiencing a complex economic transition which includes a transformation of the health sector. As part of this, in cooperation with civil society institutions, a national AIDS program has been developed. Its priorities are to reinforce multi-sectoral cooperation, develop complex preventive measures, anti-retroviral treatment and care, and the mobilization of adequate human and material resources.
Subregional partnership of national AIDS programmes is crucial for the stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS. International technical cooperation through UNAIDS and the European Union Accelerated Action Program will also provide significant assistance to my Government. We strongly agree with the Secretary-General on the need for committed leadership at every level, the need for resources, and the creation of the Global AIDS and Health Fund. International unity can combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and hopefully, reverse its course.
LEON-ALFRED OPIMBAT, Minister of Health, Solidarity and Humanitarian Action, Congo: For us the battle against HIV/AIDS means the restoration of peace and stability and a fight against poverty. Our people and Government are resolutely behind this.
HIV/AIDS is an undeniable reality that requires a global response at all levels. Humanity's survival means a huge mobilization of all kinds at all levels. While we must recognize the tremendous efforts being made by the poorer countries, it must be acknowledged that they still need assistance. Access to treatment and the burden on national health systems, for example, are still issues that need to be addressed.
Money needs to be made available to combat the disease in our countries. We have stressed cooperation in regional and subregional relations and we are pleased with the support we have received. We welcome the proposals to set up a Global Health Fund, and hope the rich countries will contribute regularly to it.
PETER S. COLEMAN, Minister of Health and Social Welfare of Liberia: With sub-Saharan Africa under attack by this deadly pandemic, it is incumbent upon Liberia to do her share in minimizing its effect on the population and contribute to the decrease of the rate of infection on our continent, hence the world. With our current prevalence rate at an alarming 8.2 per cent, we find ourselves on the verge of an explosion.
With such negative factors as a high illiteracy rate, massive migration and an increasing level of poverty in Liberia, we are left with no other options than adopting a new approach, which is in consonance with the resolutions of the African Development Forum and the Abuja Declaration. We must explore and foster new collaborations and strengthen existing ones to develop a holistic approach, which will include care and support for persons living with AIDS, empowerment of women and different measures geared towards poverty alleviation.
We express our profound gratitude to China in the revitalization of our health sector, specifically mentioning the donation of 5 million condoms to strengthen our HIV/AIDS interventions. The Taiwan Roots Medical Peace Corps responds to appeals for emergency relief from countries in armed conflict or natural disasters, and the Government of France has supported our 3-year national strategic plan of action in the areas of AIDS awareness and prevention.
There is still need for additional sources of bilateral and multilateral funding. The current level of resources invested in HIV/AIDS prevention and care and poverty alleviation needs to be more than doubled.
The Government and people of Liberia would like to commend the Secretary-General of the United Nations for his bold initiative to establish a global fund for the fight against HIV/AIDS. Liberia is committed to this fund and hereby pledges $25,000 to this fund. We must all demonstrate our national commitment to fighting this scourge by contributing to the fund, and developing mechanisms in support of the fund-supported interventions. All efforts must be made to ensure affordability of life-saving medicines and other commodities in poor countries, through price reduction and other mechanisms.
GASTON BROWNE, Minister of Planning, Implementation and Public Service Affairs, Antigua and Barbuda: The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Antigua and Barbuda and the wider Caribbean, which ranks second only to sub-Saharan Africa, is threatening to reverse our developmental gains. Our national response programme is essentially one of prevention through a strategy of information and education. The programme is funded almost entirely by our Government and augmented with external assistance from several agencies.
Our vision is to inspire and mobilize all stakeholders to enter into partnerships, to take responsibility and to provide leadership to create, sustain and support an environment of prevention, as well as to promote a more supportive environment for people living with HIV/AIDS. The effective management and reversal of the pandemic cannot be achieved at the national level due to the enormity of the resources required. Antigua and Barbuda calls for a systematic and coordinated response to combat HIV/AIDS as a priority agenda item for all countries, multilateral and regional institutions.
We support the establishment of a Global Health Fund. Contributions to this Fund should take precedence over military spending and it should be accessible to all. We also propose the establishment of a Global AIDS Council comprising heads of State and heads of various multilateral institutions, scientists and corporate leaders to act as advocates to procure investment and commitment for HIV/AIDS prevention and cure, as well as advocacy against discrimination of individuals living with the disease and the stigmatization of the disease.
JACQUELINE THEODORE, Minister of Health and Social Security, Dominica: For a developing nation such as Dominica, the HIV/AIDS contagion is much more than a public health challenge. It continues to undermine our development efforts on many fronts. Our productive capacity is being diminished with greater demands on meagre financial resources. A comprehensive information and education campaign has been undertaken through the media, schools and community groups. A national AIDS Committee, charged with providing guidance to the Ministry of Health and Social Security, has been in place since 1988.
Regionally our efforts have been greatly assisted by the Caribbean Epidemiological Centre which is currently working with us to develop a five-year strategic plan to deal with the HIV/AIDS situation. Despite our best national and regional efforts, however, the rates of infection in the Caribbean are second only to those sub-Saharan Africa. Much more is required of us if we are to realize some measures of success in the containment, and eventual reversal of the spread of the disease in Dominica and the Caribbean region.
We applaud the efforts of the Secretary-General in seeking to establish the Global Health Fund, but early responses are not encouraging and they raise serious doubts with respect to the level of funding likely to be achieved. The affordability of drugs to HIV/AIDS victims in poor countries must be one of the objectives of the Fund. Producers of generic anti-AIDS drugs are therefore essential to the success of the funding programmes. We cannot continue to elevate the excessive profits of major pharmaceutical companies above the suffering of millions.
AHMED EL-ATRASH (Libya): We are facing a historic challenge today and we must work seriously to tackle it. We must go beyond national selfish interests and respect the spirit and letter of the Declaration, as well as mobilize the necessary resources to implement it.
Prevention, care and treatment for all those affected by the virus are crucial. Prevention should involve awareness-raising campaigns to highlight the dangers of the disease. We wish to stress the importance of the moral, religious and spiritual values which would allow us to avoid having dangerous relationships. It is a sin to accept homosexuality, which is one of the main causes of the diseases. It is important to ensure that the international community will address factors, such as poverty, poor education and distancing from religious values in relation to the disease.
African leaders have committed to devoting a minimum of 15 per cent of national budgets to strengthen efforts to improve health and combat HIV/AIDS. The international community, particular by wealthy counties, must shoulder their responsibility as well. We believe the Global Fund should be under the supervision of the World Health Organization, taking into account the competencies of that body.
TENGIZ TSERTSVADZE, Head of Supervisory Board, Scientific Center of Infection Pathology, AIDS and Clinical Immunology of Georgia: Georgia has embarked on the road of building a democratic state with emphasis on the highest universal human values. Reform of the health system allows us to create a modern type of the care system in Georgia. This would not be possible without the generous support of the international community.
There are 229 HIV/AIDS cases in Georgia, with those infected mostly concentrated in the capital and the Black Sea coast regions. The main route of transmission is intravenous drug use, followed by heterosexual and homosexual contacts, blood transfusion and mother-to-child transmissions. With a slow, but steady increase in the number of cases, the worldwide HIV/AIDS public health problem is now threatening the population of the Caucasus, including Georgia.
Unless preventive measures are urgently instituted, the rapid spread of the disease can be expected in the country in the near future. The Government considers the AIDS problem one of its top priorities, but because of the difficult economic situation, it is unable to fully address the issue.
The national AIDS and STD Control Commission is responsible for the formulation of national policy on AIDS, and for ensuring an effective multi-sectoral collaboration. Unfortunately, however, the approved budget of the national programme for 2001 was only $800,000, which is much less that what was requested. The lack of funds makes it extremely difficult to develop and implement modern, effective anti-AIDS measures. We ask that Georgia be included on the list of countries that are eligible for discounts in the price of anti-HIV/AIDS medicines.
NASTE CALOVSKY (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia): The HIV/AIDS disease is a relatively new phenomenon in the Republic but factors are favourable for the spread of the disease. Being at the crossroads of the Balkans, my country is involved in regional efforts to control the threat. It is also fighting illegal trafficking of drugs, arms, weapons and people. The activities of Albanian terrorists also add to problems that create a fertile ground for spread of the disease.
In 1997, the Ministry of Health set up the National HIV/AIDS Programme. Since then, a National HIV/AIDS Commission has been established and organized into a theme group with United Nations agencies. The purpose is to develop and implement a comprehensive multi-sectoral National Strategic Plan for the next three to four years. Due to financial problems, however, most preventive programmes have been abandoned. The Government supports the public health sector while NGOs try to find external support.
The battle against the global phenomenon of HIV/AIDS must be fought at all levels to be effective. Strong leadership at every level of society is also essential. Since the battle against HIV/AIDS is also an important part of the battle against poverty, resources should be mobilized at an unprecedented level in a response of global solidarity to fight both at once.
MOHAMMED RASHID AL-ABSI (United Arab Emirates): The special session reflects the growing awareness of the international community of about this mortal disease. HIV/AIDS is not just a health problem, but a true global and human
scourge that jeopardizes development efforts. Despite scientific progress and research to pin down the virus, AIDS is still with us. First and foremost, we must have a world commitment based on true international partnership and strategic approaches.
Such an approach will help to provide the necessary treatment to afflicted persons. In this context we pay tribute to the efforts made by international agencies and organizations in trying to combat HIV/AIDS. We still appeal for the development of resources and capacities among these organizations so that we can see a mobilization of their efforts.
The United Arab Emirates is mindful of the need to protect the health of its citizens, for they are our true national wealth. As such, all precautions are taken, including a national programme with an ad-hoc budget to confront the disease. My country is also trying to keep pace with international research, drawing on it where possible while encouraging the national production of drugs. The United Arab Emirates also provides education and training programmes to teach its people about health issues. We hope that the efforts of the international community will lead to the adoption of a strategy and plan of action that is clear and lives up to the aspiration of all countries so that they can combat this dangerous disease.
VIKTORS JAKSONS, Adviser to the Minister of Welfare of Latvia: Since regaining independence in 1991, Latvia, together with other Baltic Sea Region countries, is facing common problems in the area of health in general, and HIV/AIDS in particular. The area, previously characterized by low HIV prevalence during the last four years, is facing an extremely steep increase in the number of new infections. HIV does not respect borders. The epidemiological situation in one country will affect other countries in the region and requires concerted action. As a result of consultations, known as the “Baltic Sea Initiative” on HIV/AIDS prevention, the Governments of the region declared their commitment to the implementation of the “Baltic Sea Action Plan” -- a set of urgent measures to prevent a widespread HIV epidemic in the region.
In Latvia, the Law on Medicine, the Law on Epidemiological Safety and governmental regulations ensure that every member of society, including people living with HIV/AIDS, is entitled to access to information and education on health. In addition, they ensure that HIV testing of individuals is voluntary and confidential; an infected individual may work in any trade or profession; and anti-retroviral therapy for people with HIV is available free of charge. We will continue the development and implementation of the multi-sectoral strategy for combating HIV/AIDS, focusing on the specific dimension of human rights in our efforts to limit the spread of HIV/AIDS.
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