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Marking World AIDS Day, UN urges refocused attention to fight epidemic

Marking World AIDS Day, UN urges refocused attention to fight epidemic

Using the occasion of World AIDS Day, United Nations officials today stressed the need to refocus attention on the global fight against the epidemic and to sustain the momentum that has been achieved in that effort so far.

Addressing a Town Hall Meeting held UN Headquarters in New York in observance of the Day, UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said the events of the past few months had propelled the world into an uncertain environment, but that the resolve to address the epidemic should not be diminished as a result.

"The Secretary-General has issued a call to action to the whole world, focusing on five clear objectives around which we can all rally," she said. The aims were to ensure that people everywhere knew what to do to avoid infection, to stop "perhaps the most tragic form of HIV transmission" - from mother to child - to provide treatment for all infected persons, to redouble the search for a vaccine, as well as a cure, and to care for all those whose lives have been devastated by AIDS, particularly orphans.

Marked annually on 1 December, World AIDS Day this year has the theme "I care, do you?" to inform people that individual action can go far in slowing infection rates and breaking the silence about the epidemic.

For her part, the Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, said the world had seen the start of a real change over the past year. "Silence about HIV and AIDS is being broken," she said in a message. "All governments are confronting the epidemic with a new openness. They know that the effects [of AIDS] are relevant for their people. Taboos are starting to erode."

Pointing to recent declarations by world leaders, the WHO chief said there was widespread political commitment to act. The increase in access to low cost AIDS medicines, the establishment of health services for people at risk of HIV, and the boost in contributions to the Global Fund initiated by Secretary-General Kofi Annan were all signs that the fight against the epidemic was gaining serious momentum, she said.

Meanwhile, all over the world, the UN and its partners are organizing events to inform people about AIDS. UN Information Centres are holding media events, press conferences, film screenings, art competitions, script-writing contests, exhibits and educational campaigns to get the message out.

World AIDS Day events are also being held by UN peacekeeping operations. The UN Mission in Sierra Leone, for example, is marking the Day with a march from park in central Freetown to a stadium, where a weeklong commemorative programme includes cultural performances, workshops, film shows and panel discussions. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is organizing events both at its Headquarters in Geneva and it many of its nearly 290 offices worldwide.