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Phil Goff: The international threat of HIV-Aids

Phil Goff: The international threat of HIV-Aids

The international threat of HIV-Aids

Mr President

As Chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum, I have the honour to speak on behalf of the members who are represented at the United Nations, namely: Australia, Kiribati, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and my own country, New Zealand.

It is hard to think of a greater threat to international wellbeing on the UN agenda than HIV-Aids.

Two years ago, heads of state and government and ministers gathered in this hall to demonstrate a global commitment to the battle against HIV-Aids. The Declaration of Commitment, which the Special Session on HIV-Aids adopted, outlined the key actions required to achieve the sixth Millennium Development Goal: to halve and reverse the spread of HIV-Aids by 2015.

Today our task is to consider how far we have come in meeting those commitments, and how far we still have to go.

With little evidence of reducing infection rates, and indications that the global rate of infection could actually accelerate as the epidemic expands into the Asia-Pacific and Eastern Europe, we must give more attention to combating HIV-Aids. It continues to threaten national development, and destabilises whole regions. This virus is indiscriminate and knows no borders. The international community must give renewed priority to defeating this scourge.

The implementation of the Declaration of Commitment on HIV-Aids is crucial to Pacific Island Forum Countries. At last month's Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Auckland, Forum Leaders expressed serious concern over the developmental threat HIV-Aids presents to our region. They affirmed that strong government leadership, and commitment to implementing national HIV-Aids strategies, are key in combating the pandemic.

The Declaration recognised that an important first step in addressing the epidemic is to establish an enabling policy and legislative environment. Multi-sectoral HIV-Aids strategic plans, national Aids councils, and effective education and awareness-raising programmes have been key components of the campaign against Aids.

Those multi-sectoral HIV-Aids strategies must be implemented and resourced, and legislation and policy enforced and monitored. Member states that have not implemented the first goals in the Commitment need to give this their urgent attention.

There is still much to be done. Globally, we have yet to curb the increase in the number of new cases of HIV-Aids infection. Our efforts so far have fallen short of what is needed. International resource commitments this year are half the US$10.5 billion estimated to be required annually to adequately address the epidemic, and in critical areas leadership to properly implement HIV-Aids strategies is still lacking.

Mr President, HIV-Aids is also a human rights issue.

Women and girls often disproportionately bear the burden of HIV-Aids. We must also pay special attention to vulnerable groups, including adolescents and Aids orphans, for whom the virus has been particularly devastating. We must provide them with a decent future.

We must also work to prevent stigmatisation of, and discrimination against, those living with HIV-Aids and groups at increased risk of infection. More must be done to implement anti-discrimination policies outlined in the Declaration. To beat this disease we must empower those living with it, along with the groups at heightened risk from HIV infection. In New Zealand, we have found that the involvement of those living with HIV-Aids, and those at higher risk, in prevention, education and awareness programmes has had great success.

Mr President, HIV-Aids does not stop at national borders. By its very nature it needs an international response. As Chair of the Pacific Island Forum, New Zealand welcomes the proactive regional approach taken by Pacific Island countries to address the sharp increase in HIV-Aids infection rates in the Pacific region.

Working together, 11 Pacific Island countries recently submitted a successful bid to the Global Fund on HIV-Aids, TB and Malaria for a $US6 million regional programme on HIV-Aids. This, along with a number of other regional initiatives under way, will be important measures in stepping up the response to HIV-Aids in the Pacific Island region.

We have also seen an increase in resources being contributed to HIV-Aids, including by national governments, bilateral donors, and through the establishment of the Global Trust Fund for HIV-Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis. But a substantial shortfall remains, and we must continue to ensure that there is adequate resourcing for the fight against HIV-Aids.

Mr President, Pacific Island Forum members welcome the recent agreement by WTO members to assist developing countries access affordable drugs to fight serious public health problems including HIV-Aids. This is a breakthrough not only in terms of the care and treatment of those infected with the virus, but also an important part of its control. Moreover, the decision demonstrates the importance of partnerships between the private sector, civil society, governments, donors and multilateral institutions.

But the buck stops here, with us. At the end of the day, the key to beating this disease is political leadership. By being here today, we have reinforced the messages contained in the Declaration of Commitment on HIV-Aids. Some of the initiatives required will not be easy to achieve. It is up to us, the politicians, the leaders, to make good on our commitments to make the world a safer and healthier place today and for the generations to come.

Thank you, Mr President


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