Global perspective Human stories

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

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

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.