Global perspective Human stories

In San Francisco, top UN official urges global action to combat AIDS pandemic

In San Francisco, top UN official urges global action to combat AIDS pandemic

Addressing the challenges of combating AIDS for the second time in as many days, the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Louise Fréchette, today called for international action to stem the spread of the disease and treat its victims.

Speaking in San Francisco to the Pacific Council on International Policy, one day after delivering a statement at a breakfast meeting on HIV/AIDS and business organized by the Better World Campaign in Denver, Ms. Fréchette stressed that contrary to popular belief, AIDS is a global scourge - not an African problem.

"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 told the West Coast think tank, which deliberates on economic, social and political issues with important regional and international implications. Citing alarming statistics about the prevalence of the disease in other regions of the world, she said, "The fact is that in our globalized world, there are no safe countries. In the ruthless world of AIDS, there is no 'us and them.'"

Ms. Fréchette also sought to counter the prevailing view that in some societies, HIV/AIDS prevention efforts cannot work because of cultural obstacles. "It is true that when we talk about prevention, we raise very sensitive subjects and discuss highly intimate things - aspects of life that many societies find it difficult to address publicly," she said. "But it is also true that we have convincing examples of successful prevention campaigns in very different societies."

Uganda, for example, had reversed the spread of the epidemic through a relentless public education campaign, while other countries across the globe had met similar success, she observed. "But they all have something in common: they stem from a political will to fight AIDS, and a recognition that facing up to the problem is the first step towards conquering it." With that will, any society could win.

Ms. Fréchette said that effective treatment was realistic for the developing world. "Treatment need not require the five-star hospitals we are used to in this country," she said. "The key is a political commitment."

Fighting AIDS globally - far from being too expensive - was much less costly than doing nothing, the Deputy Secretary-General said, pointing out that unchecked, the disease "unravels whole societies, communities, economies." The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria was already operational, and had received contributions of almost $2 billion, she noted.