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UN News reports on special session on HIV/AIDs

UN News reports on special session on HIV/AIDs

Contents:
1. UN session on AIDS enters second day amid calls for concrete action to curb epidemic
2. Linkage of human rights and AIDS focus of high-level roundtable at UN session
3. General Assembly President reports accord on draft declaration on HIV/AIDS
4. Annan stresses key role of people living with AIDS in efforts to battle pandemic
5. Annan urges business leaders to show more leadership in fight against AIDS

UN session on AIDS enters second day amid calls for concrete action to curb epidemic

26 June – As the United Nations General Assembly's special session on HIV/AIDS entered its second day, speakers at the Assembly's first-ever session on a health issue expressed hope that the watershed event would spur genuine international solidarity and action to tackle the pandemic.

Emphasizing that the disease harms all countries, Benjamin William Mkapa, the President of Tanzania, observed that " in a globalizing world, in which distances are shrinking and contacts are multiplying exponentially, the impact on rich developed countries is inescapable; and their prosperity is bound to be affected by the economic decline and pervasive poverty that HIV/AIDS, if unchecked, will unleash." He quoted, in this context, a proverb from East Africa which states that, "If a dead tree falls, it carries with it a live one." Afflicted countries, he said, "are here to appeal for greater partnership and more help, with new resources - not repackaged existing aid programmes."

Bertie Ahern, the Prime Minister of Ireland, drew links between the spread of HIV/AIDS and poverty and global inequality. "The fight against HIV/AIDS will never be won without improved international terms of trade, an end to the impossible debt burden on poor countries, more development aid and the achievement of the international development targets," he said. Stressing the need for strong leadership of prevention efforts, he called on political leaders to help people face the "often uncomfortable facts" about the spread of the disease. "They have to overcome the forces of denial, prejudice and fear." National leadership must be matched by a global partnership, he said, voicing support for the creation of a Global Fund for Health and HIV/AIDS.

Bruno Amoussou, the Prime Minister of Benin, said Africa was giving the pandemic the high degree of attention which it warranted, but resources were needed to implement the continent's programmes to fight HIV/AIDS. He expressed support for Kofi Annan's initiative in creating a Global Fund to fight the scourge, which affected all regions of the world, particularly the poorest. "The people of Africa expect much of this special session," he said. "It is up to us to ensure that the end of this gathering should not mark the end of hope to live for millions of human beings."

Nagoum Yamassoum, the Prime Minister of Chad, joined others in highlighting the importance of both leadership and funding in the battle against AIDS. He said the presence of so many national leaders demonstrated that "this fight is not only the concern of specialists." HIV did not respect national borders. While an international partnership was building, much work lay ahead. A large mobilization of resources would be needed to break out of the vicious circle in which AIDS contributed to poverty, and poverty contributed to AIDS. As such, Chad supported the proposed Global Fund for AIDS and Health. "Bringing together all of our resources and all of our forces, we will win this war," he said.

Peter Mafany Musonge, the Prime Minister of Cameroon, said that with AIDS threatening to plunge Africa "into misery and utter despair," the time had come for rapid action. Cameroon welcomed the proposed Global Fund and paid tribute to all countries which had already announced contributions to it. In addition, the Government supported all efforts to achieve a significant drop in the prices of medicines to treat AIDS, especially anti-retroviral drugs. He expressed hope that the international community would rise to the current challenge, "which we must absolutely overcome for the harmonious development of the world."

The morning and afternoon plenary meetings of the Assembly, were followed by another session stretching into the evening and involving the participation of high-level representatives from over 70 nations.

Addressing the evening meeting last night, the Prime Minister of Burkina Faso, Paramanga Errest Yonli, said that many good intentions had been expressed, and many promises made, but "the words and intentions have not been followed by concrete actions." He appealed for a new international effort to provide access to all those who were sick with AIDS - with no discrimination - to treatment by antiretroviral drugs and other appropriate forms of care. In addition, he called for debt cancellation for the poorest AIDS-afflicted countries and expressed support for the creation of the Global Fund.

Owen Arthur, the Prime Minister of Barbados, underscored the toll taken by HIV/AIDS on the Caribbean, where prevalence rates were second only to sub-Saharan Africa. "Even more ominous," he said, "HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among young people in the Caribbean." The pandemic, however, was above all a global problem which required a global emergency response in support of regional and national programmes to fight HIV/AIDS. That response should involve information campaigns to educate people on how to avoid infection, improved treatment and care for those living with HIV/AIDS, and an intensified search for a cure and vaccine, he said.

Guinea-Bissau's President, Kumba Yala, said countries like his own, which had limited means, required international solidarity in order to fight the epidemic. All people -- rich or poor, male or female -- were affected by the disease, he said. Poverty and underdevelopment provided favourable conditions for the epidemic's spread, which was further complicated by conditions of conflict or internal crises. Guinea-Bissau, which had an AIDS prevalence rate of 8-10 per cent of its adult population, found itself unable to provide antiretroviral medicines to those in need. He called for a response on the national, regional and global scale to stop the scourge of AIDS.


Linkage of human rights and AIDS focus of high-level roundtable at UN session

26 June – Lack of respect for human rights is driving the AIDS epidemic and must be addressed in as part of the comprehensive campaign against the disease, according to the chairman of a roundtable discussion held as part of the General Assembly's special session on the pandemic.

"The extent to which human rights are neglected or promoted is a major factor in how widely HIV spreads and the speed with which infection progresses to AIDS and kills," Poland's Health Minister, Grzegorz Opala, told reporters following the roundtable discussion, which brought together representatives of governments, civil society groups, UN agencies and intergovernmental organizations.

Mr. Opala emphasized that respect for human rights was vital to preventing the epidemic's spread. "When human rights are respected, people are better able to protect themselves from being infected with the HIV virus," he said.

The Polish Health Minister also underscored the need to break the silence surrounding the issue. "We all agreed that we must talk openly and bluntly about the factors that allow HIV/AIDS to thrive," he said. An important aspect of this endeavour was "breaking down discrimination in terms of minority rights, gender, sexual behaviour, inequality, inequity and justice."

Gender inequality was fuelling the rapid spread of HIV because women did not have control over their bodies. "Many women and girls are not in a position to say 'no' to unwanted sex, nor can they negotiate condom use," he observed.

Commenting on the draft declaration of commitment, expected to be adopted by the General Assembly at the close of the special session, he said it marked the first time that the international community had spelled out a specific timetable for action against HIV/AIDS. Measures to follow-up on the declaration should involve people living with AIDS, children, women and other vulnerable groups.

The session's programme includes two other roundtable discussions, focusing on the socio-economic impact of HIV/ADS, and international funding and cooperation.


General Assembly President reports accord on draft declaration on HIV/AIDS

26 June – The President of the General Assembly, Harri Holkeri of Finland, reported today that agreement had been reached on the draft declaration of commitment that is slated for adoption by the Assembly's special session on HIV/AIDS.

A spokeswoman for the President said that Mr, Holkeri had submitted the draft to Member States after final accord had been reached.

"The President is very pleased that agreement has been reached on a text that is strong and progressive and that offers significant targets and strategies for combating HIV/AIDS," spokeswoman Susan Markham said in a statement.

Ms. Markham reported that the agreed text was "essentially the one reached over the weekend, in consultations led by the two co-facilitators of the preparatory process of the special session, Ambassador Penny Wensley of Australia and Ambassador Ibra Deguène Ka of Senegal."

The draft, which was the subject of intensive negotiations over the weekend stretching into the early morning hours on Monday, sets key international goals for fighting the pandemic.


UN roundtable stresses need to prevent HIV's spread among vulnerable groups

26 June – The importance of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS among vulnerable groups emerged as a central theme during the first roundtable discussion held in as part of the current United Nations General Assembly special session on the pandemic, according to the Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis, who chaired the informal talks.

"We looked at the need for well-established educational programmes that are targeted to vulnerable groups, like youth and women, and also those high-risk groups which include men having sex with men, drug users and sex workers," Prime Minister Denzil Douglas told correspondents on Monday evening following the conclusion of the roundtable discussion. He said participants had also emphasized the importance of training health care workers and others active in promoting the lifestyle changes needed to stop the disease's spread.

"We are also making the point from this roundtable that prevention is cost-effective, and it is feasible, and therefore it must be part of the overall strategy in the fight against HIV/AIDS," he said. Prevention must involve the full spectrum of responses, "from those which are immediate responses, like abstinence from sex and condom use, to long-term behavioural changes, for example the empowerment of women to say 'no' to unsafe sex."

The roundtable was "very firm" on the need to involve all sectors of society at the community level in each country "if we are to effectively fight against AIDS," he said.

The Prime Minister stressed that comprehensive prevention must address the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people. It must also promote safer and more responsible sexual behaviour. In addition, efforts must focus on preventing HIV-positive pregnant women from transmitting the virus to their children. Vulnerable groups deserved particular attention, he added.

Representatives of governments, civil society groups, UN agencies and intergovernmental organizations all took part in Monday's roundtable discussion. Three other roundtables are scheduled for the current session, focusing on HIV/AIDS and human rights, the disease's socio-economic impact, and international funding and cooperation.


Annan stresses key role of people living with AIDS in efforts to battle pandemic

26 June – Secretary-General Kofi Annan today stressed the valuable contribution of people living with HIV/AIDS in leading the battle against the pandemic, as the United Nations General Assembly's special session entered the second day of its intensive programme, which combined formal debate in plenary meetings with a wide array of side events involving business and civic leaders, medical experts and prominent personalities.

"The response to AIDS is far too important to be left only to politicians and bureaucrats," the Secretary-General said during a dialogue event involving the International Federation of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies and the Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS. "The active participation of people living with HIV/AIDS is absolutely vital."

"In the 20 years since the world first heard of AIDS, you have been at the forefront of the response," the Secretary-General said. "While others may have been hampered by taboo and stigma, yours has often been a lone and courageous voice breaking the silence."

Acknowledging that for people living with HIV/AIDS, being open about their status was difficult and sometimes even dangerous, Mr. Annan praised the public alliance between the Red Cross/Red Crescent and the Global Network. "[It] sends an important message to decision-makers, and to society as a whole, about the importance of tackling stigma and discrimination," he said.

The dialogue event was one of many activities held today in conjunction with the special session, which also saw the convening of two roundtable discussions, a panel discussion on orphans and vulnerable children, and a panel discussion on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission.

Contributing his well-known voice to the charge against HIV/AIDS, Harry Belafonte, who serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), took part in the panel on orphans. A celebrated musician and actor, Mr. Belafonte has long been active in the fight against AIDS. Along with his wife, he recently established the Harry and Julie Belafonte Fund for HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, to be administered by the United States Fund for UNICEF.


Annan urges business leaders to show more leadership in fight against AIDS

26 June – Meeting with representatives of a major business association involved in the fight against AIDS, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today praised their efforts while urging corporations to become more active in the global campaign to defeat the pandemic.

During his discussions with leaders of the Global Business Council at United Nations Headquarters in New York, Mr. Annan said more enterprises should join the worldwide fight against AIDS. "I need not convince you that AIDS is your business, but many companies still need convincing," he said, adding that businesses should contribute to the effort by exercising leadership, putting in place relevant workplace practices, and building on their commercial strengths.

The President of the Global Business Council, former United States Permanent Representative to the UN Richard Holbrooke, expressed full support for this call. "Let's be frank - businesses have done a fraction of what they should have done so far," Mr. Holbrooke told a press conference which followed his meeting with the Secretary-General. "Whatever's been done so far is grossly inadequate - and that is not to denigrate the people who've done things, but to draw attention to those who have done nothing."

Underscoring the unique strengths of corporations in the fight against AIDS, Mr. Holbrooke said, "in most cases, businesses are more efficient in reaching both their own workers and consumers than governments, particularly in war-torn areas." Companies could cut through the political constraints which impeded the work of States, he added.

"If we fight wars, if we engage in UN peacekeeping operations, we should also engage in this fight," Mr. Holbrooke said, calling AIDS the "most serious problem" facing the world today. "Not only is it the worst health crisis in 700 years, but it is also a direct attack on the social, political and economic structure of nations all over the world."

Bill Roedy, the President of MTV Networks International and a member of the Global Business Council, joined the call for enterprises to do more. "In the aggregate, given the capability of business around the world, and given the magnitude of the problem, we still have not done enough," he said. "The AIDS fight needs exactly what business can offer: everything from leadership and influence to marketing and sales, to media and communications skills, supply chains, distribution, organization and infrastructure, and most importantly, people."

"I think business, in the end, will be a terrific leader in this fight," he said, "but it is important to realize that the fight is still ahead of us."


ENDS

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