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UN News reports on special session on HIV/AIDs (2)

Contents :
1. UN special session on AIDS opens to spur massive response to epidemic
2. World leaders address UN special session on AIDS
3. Nearly 60 States plan to boost care and treatment for AIDS, UN agency says
4. Talks on draft declaration on AIDS wrap up as Islamic Group considers outcome
5. In show of solidarity, UN tower lit up with red AIDS ribbon
6. Annan urges action by "Group of Eight" on AIDS, poverty, environment

UN special session on AIDS opens to spur massive response to epidemic

25 June – Aiming to mobilize a greatly intensified global response to the AIDS epidemic, the United Nations this morning opened a three-day General Assembly special session devoted to tackling what nations have agreed constitutes a global emergency.

Marking the first time that the General Assembly has held a special session on a health issue, this historic gathering on HIV/AIDS is expected to culminate in the adoption of a declaration of commitment setting out a series of strategic targets and timetables to guide future efforts to fight the pandemic, which has already taken the lives of some 22 million people worldwide.

"The decision of the General Assembly, alarmed by the accelerating spread of the epidemic, to convene a special session as a matter of urgency, proves that the world is committed to intensify efforts to contain the epidemic and tackle the crisis," said the body's President, Harri Holkeri of Finland, in his opening statement. Calling the session a "landmark" event, he said, "With our concerted efforts, we will be able to turn the tide and contain the spread of AIDS."

Mr. Holkeri also reported that "despite great efforts, regrettably up until this moment no final agreement" had been reached on the draft declaration. He strongly appealed to negotiators to bring the drafting process to conclusion in the coming days so that the document could be adopted by the end of the session on 27 June.

In his address, Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has made the struggle against AIDS his personal priority, pointed to growing attention to the pandemic. "AIDS can no longer do its deadly work in the dark," he said. "The world has started to wake up."

Mr. Annan, who has been working to bring together governments, the private sector, and civic groups in the fight against AIDS, said there was growing momentum to defeat the epidemic. "Never, since the nightmare began, has there been such a moment of common purpose," he said.

The Secretary-General cautioned, however, against making moral judgements or refusing to face unpleasant facts. "Let us remember that every person who is infected -- whatever the reason -- is a fellow human being, with human rights and human needs," he said, adding, "in the ruthless world of AIDS, there is no us and them."

At the same time, he stressed the need for magnifying current efforts, noting that spending on AIDS should rise to five times its present level. He added that his proposed Global AIDS and Health Fund - which would be open to donations from governments and private donors - aimed to be operational by the end of this year. "I will continue to work with all the stakeholders to ensure that we meet that goal," he pledged.

The Secretary-General reiterated the importance of reaching that goal in an op-ed article published today in The New York Times. "The world can surely find this amount," he wrote, referring to an estimated annual expenditure of $7 billion to $10 billion needed to achieve tangible results in the whole of the developing world.

"Some of the money will come from within the poorer countries most affected by AIDS, but I believe the public in the richer nations is also ready to contribute significantly," Mr. Annan wrote in the op-ed piece. "It is in these nations' self-interest as well as humanitarian interest to do so, since no country can be unaffected by a global disaster of this magnitude."

World leaders address UN special session on AIDS

25 June – As the United Nations special session on AIDS got under way in New York this morning, the General Assembly - the UN's main legislative and deliberative body -- heard impassioned calls for action from heads of State and Government who addressed the Assembly's plenary meeting.

In the course of three plenary meetings running from morning through late evening, the Assembly was scheduled to hear over 70 speakers, including heads of State and government, health ministers and other high-level officials.


El Hadj Omar Bongo, Gabon.
Omar Bongo, the President of Gabon, said drugs to treat AIDS must be made available to all, and the proposed Global AIDS and Health Fund must be made operational as soon as possible. "Small pox has disappeared, polio is vanishing; AIDS must also go," he said. If all acted in unity to combat the scourge, he said, "for once in history the word solidarity will have taken on its full meaning."


Festus Mogae, Botswana.
Offering the perspective of one of the countries most devastated by the disease, the President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, stressed that funds were needed for voluntary counselling and testing, assistance to AIDS support groups, scientific research for AIDS drugs and vaccines, improved access to drugs, and ensuring "that the fight against HIV/AIDS does not come at the cost of sustainable development and improved living standards for developing nations." Welcoming the proposed Fund, the President emphasized that its resources should be disbursed to countries worst-hit by the pandemic.


Dr. Denzil Douglas, Saint Kitts & Nevis.
Denzil L. Douglas, the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, said it was regrettable that "institutions and private foundations that pledged to assist the countries in Africa did not appear to have recognized the seriousness of the situation in the Caribbean." He pointed out that there were 360,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the region. "In the face of this phenomenon, Caribbean countries have been both steadfast and proactive," he said. However, like the countries in Africa, Caribbean States had little access to antiretroviral medicines to fight AIDS. The disease, he said, "should force us to accept that in the struggle to preserve the fabric of our humanity, we must work together to solve this problem."

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said that since the first appearance of AIDS in Senegal in 1986, the Government had been making serious efforts to fight the disease. As a result, the AIDS prevalence rate was only 2 per cent. At the same time, he pointed out that the exhorbitant cost of medicines to treat AIDS was "simply immoral and unacceptable." Calling on the special session to take decisive action, he said, "The time to act is now. Tomorrow it will be too late."

Ghana's President, John Agyekum Kufour, recalled that earlier this year at a summit meeting in Abuja, African governments had pledged to allocate at least 15 per cent of their annual budgets to improvements in the health sector to combat the pandemic. "Significant as this initiative is, it must be admitted that it will be inadequate without sustained and concerted international assistance directed at both prevention of the disease and mitigation of its impact," he said. Ghana supported the proposed Global AIDS and Health Fund, which he said should be administered by the UN "with all the urgency and dispatch the crisis commands."

Pascoal Manuel Mocumbi, the Prime Minister of Mozambique, underscored the gender dimensions of the pandemic. "HIV is transmitted through the most intimate and private human relationships, through sexual violence and commercial sex; it proliferates mostly because of women's poverty and inequality," he said, calling for special efforts to help those most vulnerable to the disease. On the proposed Global Fund, he emphasized that "no commitment we declare today will achieve the desired results if adequate resources are not provided consistently and sustained over time."

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo called attention to the devastating impact of AIDS in Africa. "The future of our continent is bleak, to say the least, and the prospect of extinction of the entire population of a continent looms larger and larger," he said. Africans were looking to the special session with hope, he added, urging participants to help people living with AIDS "to overcome the stigma of society, [so] they can join the crusade against further spread of the killer disease."

The President of Portugal, Jorge Sampaio, pointed out that although HIV strikes every region, culture and social group "it cannot be denied that it is most prevalent among those populations socially and economically less favoured." He said his Government was working to raise awareness among the Portuguese-speaking countries of Africa about the need to increase their efforts to combat AIDS. Portugal itself, "in the European context, has a relevant AIDS problem," he added. Noting that the contribution of religious leaders should be strengthened, he called for "a commitment that does not have to call into question the beliefs and moral values of each."

Daniel T. arap Moi, President of Kenya, underscored the devastation wrought by AIDS on Africa. "This is a time when the production of coffins is a growing industry because of this dreadful pestilence," he said. On the issue of patent protection for new anti-AIDS medicines, he said it would pose a choice between the human lives and the right of commercial interest. "Human life must surely come before anything else," he said." There will be no question of corporations or individuals making handsome profits at the expense of my people, the people of Africa or at the expense of the sick."


Paul Kagame, Rwanda.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, said his country was among the worst-hit by HIV/AIDS, with some 400,000 people - out of a total population of 8 million - estimated to be infected. The 1994 genocide, in which untold numbers of women and young girls were systematically raped, was partly to blame for the high prevalence rate. Despite its problems, Rwanda was working to respond to the epidemic, including by purchasing anti-retroviral drugs, and providing them to the public at subsidized rates. He said international efforts should focus on adopting a global strategy that is realistic, practical and effective, particularly in regard to resource mobilization.

The Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Hubert A. Ingraham, expressed strong support for the establishment of the Global Fund, while voicing concern that small developing countries which did not have UN agencies located in their territories might have trouble accessing the resources. "I wish also to sound a cautionary note that we not place all our eggs in one basket," he added. "While we recognize that the Fund must assist in drug acquisition, it is critically important that the urgency of the need for affordable anti-retroviral drugs required for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, and effective drugs for TB and malaria, not result in a disproportionate skew of the assets of the Fund to the supply of drugs."


Fakalitha Bethuel Mosisili, Kingdom of Lesotho.
Lesotho's Prime Minister, Pakalitha B. Mosisili, said HIV/AIDS had been declared a national disaster in his country. He described the Government's efforts to fight back, which included providing drugs for the treatment of opportunistic infections, adding that Lesotho would "soon reach a decision on the availability and accessibility of anti-retroviral therapy." At the same time, he stressed the country's need for support to strengthen its infrastructure and increase access to drugs.

Alpha Oumar Konare, the President of Mali, said together, AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis were having a devastating impact on Africa. The continent's leaders had confirmed their commitment to combat the scourge. For its part, Mali had launched a broad campaign to fight the disease. Both the Government and civil society were working together to address the problem at the local level. Stressing that no State must be left alone to confront the disease, he called for an international coalition against it.

Also today, the Assembly took a series of procedural votes before adopting, by 62 in favour to none against with 30 abstentions, an amendment adding the name of Karyn Kaplan of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission to the list of civil society actors who will participate in tomorrow's roundtable on "HIV/AIDS and human rights."

The other three roundtables scheduled for the current session will focus on "HIV/AIDS prevention and care," "Socio-economic impact of HIV/AIDS" and "International funding and cooperation."

Nearly 60 States plan to boost care and treatment for AIDS, UN agency says

25 June – Efforts to improve and speed up access to care for people living with HIV/AIDS are gaining new momentum, but support is still urgently needed to ensure widespread treatment, the key United Nations agency fighting the epidemic said today.

According to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 58 States have expressed interest in collaborating with the agency to gain access to lower-priced drugs to fight the disease. Access to these medicines is becoming possible in the context of a public-private partnership started last year by five major pharmaceutical companies - Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol Myers Squibb, Glaxo Wellcome, Hoffman La Roche and Merck - and five UN agencies -- the World Health Organization (WHO), World Bank, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNAIDS.

Speaking to reporters in New York, Rolf Krebs, the Chairman of Boehringer Ingelheim GMBH of Germany, underscored the critical role of the UN in the partnership. "Only the UN, at the request of countries, could see whether the conditions in the countries could be established for treatment with rather complicated drugs."

He said that some States were not ready to accept the lower-cost drugs because they did not have the infrastructure needed to distribute them - "not only logistical infrastructure but also medical infrastructure" such as the ability to test for HIV. Noting that the proposed Global AIDS and Health Fund would aim to redress that problem, he said, "We are very grateful for the support from Kofi Annan and also for his initiative now in setting up the Fund, and we hope very much that this Fund will be filled."

"One thing we don't have is time," he warned. "As soon as possible we have to start even if we have to start with a couple of thousand patients."


Drug costs, he noted, were still too high for the least developed countries, "so there is still some way to go." Unfortunately, it was not possible to lower the prices any further, as the prices were already very near cost, he added.

In a statement released today, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot echoed this concern. "Significant price discounts are being achieved, but prices of HIV/AIDS drugs are still far beyond the reach of the majority of people who need them," he said.

While efforts are under way to ensure support for comprehensive care programmes in hard-hit countries, UNAIDS warned that access will remain uneven until countries are able to afford AIDS-related drugs and diagnostic equipment, strengthen their health systems with the necessary infrastructure and trained staff, and provide adequate voluntary counselling and testing services as well as psychosocial support.


Talks on draft declaration on AIDS wrap up as Islamic Group considers outcome

25 June – Talks on the draft declaration of commitment expected to be adopted by the General Assembly's special session on HIV/AIDS have wrapped up, with Islamic States considering their response to the outcome, according to one of the chief negotiators.

"Essentially, the negotiations have concluded," said Ambassador Penny Wensley of Australia, following intensive talks which ran throughout the weekend and into the early morning hours of Monday. She said it was up to Member States to decide whether or not they were prepared to accept the draft.

Ambassador Wensley emphasized that all groups had accepted the draft reluctantly, noting that "when everybody is unhappy, then maybe you have a sense that you have found the middle ground."

"The group that is still considering their position is the Organization of Islamic States, because from the very beginning, it has been clear that they have profound concerns about language that may be, from their perspective, in conflict with their religious and cultural values," she said.

"We have tried throughout the process to be sensitive to this," she stressed. "I am hopeful that this group, like the other group, may decide that, even though they find some aspects of the language still very difficult to accept, that they may be able to do so."

"Frankly, it has been a very difficult negotiation," she said, adding that this had been anticipated. "We knew from the outset that we were having to deal with issues that raise profound sensitivities."

Contentious issues, she said, "revolved around HIV/AIDS and human rights, women's rights, and how to refer to and describe vulnerable groups."

"Whatever the final decision of the group that is still meeting on the text, I believe that we have made enormous progress," she said. The declaration represented a "quantum leap" in terms of the international community dealing with the complex range of issues associated with the pandemic and would constitute a "valuable blueprint for future action."

She said that while compromise had been necessary, the scale of the problem required forceful action. "All groups feel that they have stretched well outside their comfort zones but there is the sense that we're all in this together and this is a global crisis that requires a global response."

In show of remembrance of victims of epidemic, AIDS quilt unfurled at UN

25 June – Raising the curtain on the General Assembly's historic special session on HIV/AIDS, the AIDS memorial quilt was unfurled this morning at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

"The Quilt Movement is a wonderful example of the kind of response we need in facing up to HIV/AIDS," Secretary-General Kofi Annan told those attending the ceremony, which was held at around 8 a.m. He noted that what had begun almost 15 years ago as "one commemoration of a loved one who died of AIDS, has since grown to 50,000 quilts worldwide."

"As delegates from all over the world gather here today for the special session on HIV/AIDS, I hope this quilt will inspire them to join together, like the panels in this patchwork, in a movement of global solidarity against AIDS," Mr. Annan said, expressing his "profound gratitude" to all the members of the Memorial Quilt Movement, and to all the people whose lives it has commemorated.

The President of the General Assembly, Harri Holkeri of Finland, said the quilt would spur participants to action. "I am convinced that this symbolic gesture - the presence of memories of those who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS - will strengthen our efforts and will to find a strong global commitment to fight against AIDS and to save lives," he said.

In show of solidarity, UN tower lit up with red AIDS ribbon

25 June – Providing a visual curtain-raiser to the United Nations special session on HIV/AIDS, which opened this morning at UN Headquarters, over the past two nights the Secretariat Building stood out against the New York skyline emblazoned with a red ribbon - the symbol of solidarity in the fight against the epidemic.

The special lighting, which began on 23 June, aims to send a strong message of UN commitment to the battle against HIV/AIDS, while focusing attention on the special session.

The large AIDS ribbon was inscribed on the building by using red plastic film, which was temporarily attached to 550 designated windows on both the east and west sides of the Secretariat building. The materials were provided by Alkit Digital Imaging of New York City, which helped to make the project possible by offering concessionary prices to the UN.

The resulting image will be used on a special stamp issued early next year by the UN Postal Administration.

This historic project was undertaken by the UN Department of Public Information and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), along with its seven co-sponsors, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank.


Annan urges action by "Group of Eight" on AIDS, poverty, environment

25 June – In advance of the annual summit meeting of the "Group of Eight" countries in Genoa, Italy, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged the G-8 leaders to make good on pledges they made during last year's United Nations Millennium Summit to fight AIDS, tackle poverty and preserve the natural environment.

"As you meet in Genoa, the eyes of the world will be upon you," Mr. Annan wrote in his letter to the Group, which was released today at UN Headquarters in New York. He recalled that the Summit had pledged to reverse the spread of AIDS and halve the proportion of people living in poverty by 2015, while sparing no effort in protecting the environment.

With HIV/AIDS taking on "terrifying proportions" in recent years, the Secretary-General expressed hope that the G-8 leaders would take the lead as donors during the General Assembly's special session on AIDS and "will make a sustained material contribution" to the campaign for global health, in part through the proposed Global AIDS and Health Fund, envisaged as a mechanism for raising an estimated $7 to $10 billion needed annually to provide prevention and care in low and middle-income countries.

HIV/AIDS affects both rich and poor, "but the poor are much more vulnerable to infection, and much less equipped to cope with the disease once infected," the Secretary-General noted. To achieve the broad objective of reducing poverty, he urged the G-8 countries to remove handicaps limiting the ability of developing countries to benefit from trade.

Concerning the environment, Mr. Annan strongly urged the G-8 leaders to give the issue priority, and to give "close personal attention" to preparations for next year's World Summit for Sustainable Development.

The Group of Eight is comprised of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation.

ENDS

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