Speakers from over 150 nations address plenary debate at UN AIDS session

Speakers from over 150 nations address plenary debate at UN AIDS session

After hearing statements from representatives of over 150 nations, including 26 heads of State and Government, the General Assembly's special session on HIV/AIDS concluded today three days of intensive plenary debate during which it heard startling statistics on the effects of the epidemic, as well as strong appeals for concrete action to stem its spread.

Summarizing the discussions, the President of the Assembly, Harri Holkeri of Finland, stressed that throughout the session speakers had emphasized that the international community had clearly reached a turning point - "either we will reach out to those who need this hope most, or we will be held responsible for not acting when we have the chance."

Mr. Holkeri pointed out that during the session Member States, intergovernmental organizations, United Nations agencies, civil society and private sector partners came together in roundtable discussions, panels, workshops and countless meetings in corridors to share experiences, make new contacts and explore potential collaboration in mounting an expanded response to the epidemic.

"This special session gave ample evidence of how the United Nations can benefit from working with partners in civil society and the private sector," he said.

This morning, the final day of the session began with an address by King Mswati III of Swaziland, who told the Assembly that he had spoken "of HIV/AIDS as the enemy on the horizon" six years ago at the same podium and that now his worst fears had turned to reality. "My people are dying," he said. "A quarter of all Swazis are already infected with the virus that causes AIDS." He urged political leaders not to allow the struggle against AIDS to be undermined by political considerations, nor through a belief that the crisis was confined only to certain areas of the world. "We leaders cannot afford to neglect our responsibilities," he said.

Saïd W. Musa, the Prime Minister of Belize, told the Assembly that his country was both "witness and subject" to the ravages of AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean. "Today the face of AIDS in Belize is young and female," the Prime Minister said. "It has affected our personal as well as our political reality, changing how we think, how we love, whom we trust, what we teach our children and how we protect them." Describing the National AIDS Commission set up in Belize last January, he urged support from the international community to the country's anti-AIDS efforts. "Every nation must lead its own response," he said. "An effective national response, however, cannot be successful in isolation."

During the evening session yesterday, the Prime Minister of Comoros, Hamada Madi Bolero, drew attention to the three dimensions of the AIDS epidemic. At the social level, the disease leads to a tragic loss of life, every day, among those infected. Economically, the epidemic wipes out a country's youngest and strongest people, which weakens production among that segment of society, and slows the development of the country as a whole. Finally, the cultural and educational dimension of the disease requires an increase in prevention efforts as the central element in any country's response, the Prime Minister said, adding that to prevent the spread of the virus among young people, the Comorian Government had launched anti-AIDS clubs in schools and youth organizations, and integrated AIDS education in school curricula, among other efforts.

According to UN officials, the overall number of government delegates attending the meeting surpassed 1,250, with 150 government delegations addressing the plenary, including 12 heads of State and 14 heads of Government. Some 700 non-governmental representatives attended the session, from 500 organizations. The session also drew keen media interest, attracting more than 250 journalists who covered the session at UN Headquarters in New York.