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Top UN official counters myths on AIDS, calls for well-funded global response

Top UN official counters myths on AIDS, calls for well-funded global response

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette today sought to counter prevailing myths regarding the HIV/AIDS pandemic while urging a well-funded, global response to the scourge.

Speaking to the Carnegie Council Worldview Breakfast in New York, Ms. Fréchette stressed that contrary to what some may think, AIDS was not an African problem but rather a worldwide menace. "While it has taken its heaviest toll in Africa so far, it is now spreading with frightening speed elsewhere - including in regions not far from here," she said, citing statistics on HIV's spread throughout the globe. "In the ruthless world of AIDS, there is no 'us and them,'" she said.

The Deputy Secretary-General also refuted the notion that in some societies, HIV/AIDS prevention efforts cannot work because of cultural obstacles. Citing examples of successful prevention campaigns in different societies, including Uganda, Senegal, Thailand, Brazil and Belarus, she said effective efforts came from a wide cross-section of cultures and took account of local conditions.

Ms. Fréchette also countered the idea that effective treatment was not realistic for the developing world. "Experience and science show that treatment can work even in the poorest societies," she said. At the same time, she acknowledged the financial limitations constraining efforts to provide medicine to all. "It is not realistic to expect that treatment can be offered to all infected people in poor countries, but it is realistic to expect that some measures - for example, reducing mother-to-child transmission - can be introduced quickly; and that the number of patients receiving the full AIDS cocktail can be gradually and steadily improved."

Ms. Fréchette pointed out that contrary to some predictions, "doing nothing" would cost far more than an effective response to the pandemic. "We estimate that a global campaign to fight AIDS requires 7 to 10 billion dollars a year," she said. "Compare that to the cost of inaction - unchecked, AIDS unravels whole societies, communities, economies." The disease, she added, was far more than a health problem - it was a major economic and social problem for every sector of society.

Pointing to the growing global movement to combat the disease, the Deputy Secretary-General concluded that "the global fight against HIV/AIDS is both necessary and winnable."