On brink of explosive AIDS epidemic, China must take preventive action, Annan says

On brink of explosive AIDS epidemic, China must take preventive action, Annan says

Kofi Annan at  Zhejiang University
Standing on the brink of an explosive AIDS epidemic, China must take action to prevent a massive further spread of the deadly disease, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today as he kicked off his official visit to the country.

“China is facing a decisive moment. How you deal with this challenge will determine not only the size of the epidemic, but whether you will be able to prevent all the other destruction that AIDS brings in its wake,” the Secretary-General said in an address to Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, where he received an honorary doctorate.

Mr. Annan noted that over the past few years, the HIV virus has spread to more and more parts of the country. While most of the infections have happened through unsafe procedures for paid blood collections or needle sharing by injecting drug users, transmission through sex has been rapidly gaining momentum.

Experience has shown, however, that the disease can be turned back, but only with a coordinated response from all sectors of society, the Secretary-General said. “It requires leadership at every level,” he stressed. “It requires breaking the silence and stigma that surrounds the disease. And it requires young people like you to be at the forefront of the struggle.”

The Secretary-General said that given the necessary support, young people can be empowered to protect themselves against the virus. “By giving you honest and straightforward information, we can break the circle of silence across all society,” he said. “By creating effective campaigns for education and prevention, we can turn young people’s enthusiasm, drive and dreams for the future into powerful tools for tackling the epidemic.”

Young people can lead the fight against AIDS by putting out the message that confronting the disease is a point of pride, not a source of shame; by demonstrating that just as the virus can be spread by the actions of just one individual, so the actions of one individual can help to stop it, Mr. Annan added.

“The task of spreading that message across China is huge; but young people do not usually shy away from huge challenges,” he said. “Quite the opposite – they are drawn to them.”

Following his address, the Secretary-General left for Beijing, where he held separate meetings with President Jiang Zemin and Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan.