26 March 2008


26 March 2008
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks on the handover of the report of the Commission on AIDS in Asia, in New York, 26 March:

I am grateful for this opportunity to help launch this comprehensive report.  As Secretary-General and as an Asian, I am particularly moved to have this chance to contribute to a full and honest discussion about the epidemic in Asia -- a discussion which has not always been forthright or open enough in the past.

First, let me congratulate Dr. Rangarajan and the members of the Commission on AIDS in Asia on their hard work during the past one and a half years, and on a job well done.  And let me thank Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, for his foresight in establishing the Commission and in bringing together individuals who can provide independent analysis and insights that go beyond traditional perspectives.

Personally, I am very pleased to meet old friends from my continent, Asia, and this reminds me of my days working in India more than three decades ago.  Speaking in this room together with you, my thoughts go back to September of last year, when I convened a summit-level meeting with world leaders here in exactly this room.  This is a historic room.  If you look around this room, you will see the panels where you can see diverse themes from nature.  Here, I convened a summit-level meeting of 25 world leaders, representing developing and developed countries, and discussed climate change.

At that time, I was very encouraged that world leaders recommitted themselves to galvanizing this political will to fight against climate change and global warming.  Now, sitting together with you, Asian leaders, fighting HIV/AIDS in this historic room, I think we will be able to rededicate and galvanize again our will and commitment to address this epidemic in Asia.  In that regard, I count on your leadership and initiative, and I thank you very much for your participation.

This report before us is exceptionally topical and timely, coming before the General Assembly’s high-level meeting in June to review results in implementing the 2001 Declaration of Commitment and the 2006 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS. As you know, the Declaration was a pledge by Member States to scale up towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010.

As this report makes clear, Asia faces both obstacles and opportunities in reaching those goals.  For the first time, we have an attempt for a comprehensive account on a number of fronts:

-- Identifying the unique features of the Asian AIDS epidemic;

-- Defining and costing a basic minimum set of responses;

-- Examining the social and economic impact of the epidemic; and

-- Outlining a policy and social environment that could more fully support the response.

Asia’s fast-growing economies offer opportunities for the social and economic emancipation and development for millions of poor people.  Most countries on the continent are on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, our common vision for building a better world in the twenty-first century.

However, as the report spells out, unbalanced and inequitable growth makes large numbers of people more vulnerable to HIV, and undermines society’s capacity to manage and cope with the impact of the disease.  There will be no equitable progress so long as some parts of the population are marginalized and denied basic health and human rights -- people living with HIV, sex workers, men who have sex with men, and injecting drug users.

Several countries are off track on Millennium Development Goal number 6 -- halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015.  Meanwhile, among Asians aged between 15 and 44, AIDS has become the single largest cause of workdays lost and of deaths related to disease.  We are seeing the beginnings of a vicious circle, posing a threat to economic growth and social resilience and leading to more and more infections.  This compels us to act immediately and unflinchingly to stop the circle turning its deadly wheel until it spins out of control.

Asia has proved before that it can act decisively and effectively in the face of grave threats.  We saw a clear example of this in the swift and resolute response to SARS five years ago.  Asian countries have the capacity to tackle AIDS with the same resolve and creativity.  But it will require a collective effort on all fronts -- from gender inequality to stigma, discrimination and marginalization of populations such as migrants and ethnic minorities.  If successful, such an effort will lead to wins all round -- against AIDS and for human and economic development.

Let us be clear: AIDS will challenge Asia for years to come.  But, if we invest early enough and judiciously enough, we can achieve an effective response.  The Commission recommends a number of investment priorities:

First, invest in HIV prevention among vulnerable groups, using tried and tested interventions that cost as little as half a dollar per capita.  For every dollar we spend on preventing HIV today, we will save eight dollars on treatment costs in the future.

Second, invest in social safety nets and health insurance, to help people with HIV and their families cope with the often catastrophic burden of health-care costs and prevent them falling into poverty.

Third, invest in access to health services by strengthening partnerships with community and peer support groups.

Fourth, make medicines affordable through regional programmes for joint procurement and negotiation with pharmaceutical companies and, where appropriate, through flexibilities provided under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement to protect public health.

But our response to AIDS is not only about money.  It is, above all, about people.  The stigma and discrimination associated with AIDS can be much worse than the disease -- robbing people of access to basic human rights and health care, preventing them from living a dignified life and deterring them from getting tested for HIV.

To address HIV-related stigma, we must turn to those who live with HIV.  Some of my most inspiring experiences as Secretary-General have been my meetings with UN+, the group of UN staff members living with HIV who come from across several regions and UN agencies, as Dr. Piot just mentioned.  Their courage and expertise have given me new and invaluable insights into the epidemic.  As important, I have been moved and heartened by the directness with which they spoke about their lives.  This experience stays with me all the time and will continue to do so.

So I wholeheartedly applaud the Commission for engaging with community-based and other civil society organizations, including and especially networks of people living with HIV.  The next step is to involve them directly in making HIV policies and implementing programmes.  This requires strengthening the capacity of communities and networks, and affirming a genuine commitment to involve them in a meaningful way.

Of equal importance is the role of women and girls -- because they carry a double burden: as the main caregivers and as disproportionately vulnerable to HIV infection, usually from their husbands.  We need to tackle social norms that prevent wives from protecting themselves, including through better legislation or better implementation and enforcement of existing laws.  And we need to review legislation that risks hampering universal access -- in cases where vulnerable groups are criminalized for their lifestyles.

Legislation can also stand in the way [of] scaling up towards universal access -- in cases where vulnerable groups are criminalized for their lifestyles.

As you have heard, I fully support the recommendations of the Commission.  By implementing them, Asian countries can avert massive increases in infections and deaths, prevent economic losses and save millions of people from poverty.  We have a window of opportunity to prevent the epidemic from expanding further -- which will in turn give us a chance to start reversing it.

Today, I look to Governments in Asia to show the leadership required to invest more substantially in the fight against AIDS and to move resolutely to stamp out stigma and discrimination.  I look to the United Nations family and the donor community to help advance the implementation of the report’s recommendations, including through financial and technical resources.  And I look to all of you, to all of us, to seize the opportunity of the General Assembly high-level meeting in June to advance our vital endeavour.  I personally will do all I can -- as a Secretary-General and an Asian -- to be at the vanguard of this effort.

Thank you very much, and thank you for your commitment and leadership.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.