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Aids Day: UN-Supported Events, New Initiatives

World Aids Day Marked by UN-Supported Events, New Initiatives Worldwide

New York, Dec 1 2005 4:00PM

Under the 2005 banner "Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise," the United Nations system around the world today observed World AIDS Day through the launch of new initiatives and through ceremonies at the largest cathedral in New York, cricket stadiums in Lahore and Auckland, and a range of other venues.

In his message on the Day, Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted the prodigious resources currently available to fight the spread of the disease and called on the international community to intensify its efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reversing the epidemic by 2015.

"For halting the spread of AIDS is not only a Millennium Development Goal in itself; it is a prerequisite for reaching most of the others," he said, referring to the development targets to reduce extreme poverty and a range of other ills set by world leaders at the Millennium Summit in 2000.

Noting that the resources and the institutional machinery is available for such an intensified effort, he said that there was currently about $8 billion available for AIDS efforts in developing countries annually, compared to $300 million a decade ago, and the national AIDS response in some 40 countries is led by Heads of State or Government themselves, or their deputies.

With signs of progress in almost every region of the world and new commitments made at the World Summit in September, he said: "We have real evidence that AIDS is a problem with a solution."

"So, this is a time to concentrate our minds. It is a time to recognize that although our response so far has succeeded in some of the particulars, it has yet to match the epidemic in scale. It is a time to admit that if we are to reach the Millennium Development Goal of halting and beginning to reverse the spread of AIDS by 2015, then we must do far, far more," he concluded.

Peter Piot, the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said that it was clear, after 25 years, that investments made in HIV prevention, treatment and care could ameliorate the sufferings of victims and break the cycle of new infections. "There are no excuses," he said.

To bolster funds available for the immense effort, Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, suggested that private companies contribute 0.7 per cent of pre-tax profits annually to replenish the Global Fund to fight infectious diseases and that access to anti-retroviral drugs be equalized between rich and poor countries.

On behalf of ten UNAIDS participating agencies, a new international award celebrating community action on AIDS was launched by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and other organizations, to honour grassroots leadership in fighting the disease.

Among others marking the Day, the special rapporteurs on adequate housing and on physical and mental health of the UN Commission on Human rights, Miloon Kothari and Paul Hunt, respectively, issued a statement recalling that women and girls bear the brunt of the global AIDS epidemic.

"Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are fundamental elements in the reduction of their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and the reversal of the pandemic," they said.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and their partners called for greater access to preventive services for pregnant women living with HIV to stop the virus being passed to children, as they convened a forum to plan the forward in anti-AIDS efforts in the worst-affected countries.

"On this day, it is important to focus our attention on what we know is working and to put greater political commitment and financial resources toward these ends," said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), saying AIDS strategies must involve all people affected, including women, youth and men.

UNFPA announced an initiative, in Zimbabwe and elsewhere, to counter rape and other abuse of women, which, it said, helps to fuel the spread of the epidemic.

The plight of the 11 million AIDS orphans in Africa was highlighted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The agency said it has set up 34 schools targeting 1,000 such children in Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia, for both general education and to fill the gap in agricultural knowledge left by their parents' deaths.

Advocating AIDS programmes for refugees that are integrated with those for their surrounding populations, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published "Strategies to support the HIV-related needs of refugees and host populations."

Juan Somavia, Director-General of the UN International Labour Office (ILO) stressed the three pillars of action on AIDS at the workplace: prevention, care and rights, and said that with the large informal economy in most countries, "ways must be found to reach out to people wherever they work."

In conjunction with UNAIDS, the world's best cricket players will help raise awareness of the epidemic and its victims at international cricket matches around the world beginning today through Saturday, from Auckland, New Zealand to Lahore, Pakistan.

The largest UN commemoration of the Day will take place this evening at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, in an event co-sponsored by UNAIDS and the UN Department of Public Information, in collaboration with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the African Services Committee.

Up to 2,000 people are expected to attend the gathering to honour progress made in the battle against AIDS, to renew commitments made to tackle the epidemic, and to expand on the Day's theme: "Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise." Artists and advocates will join people living with HIV at the event, for which the keynote speaker will be Jan Eliasson, President of the General Assembly.

"We must ensure," Mr. Eliasson said, "that when historians look at the way the world responded to HIV and AIDS, they see that 2006 was the year when the international community finally stepped up to the mark – the year when, in the words of the World AIDS campaign, the world began to 'keep the promise.'"


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