The United Nations General Assembly today convened a high-level meeting to discuss a progress report by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the worldwide fight against HIV/AIDS, two years after Member States agreed to a time-bound set of targets to roll back the disease.
In opening the session, Assembly President Julian Robert Hunte of St. Lucia called on UN Member States to reaffirm their pledge to halt and reverse the HIV/AIDS pandemic and build on the foundation set at a special meeting in 2001.
Mr. Hunte said though there had been signs of progress and resources allocated, they must be juxtaposed against the shortfall in funding of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. "It falls to governments to provide the leadership and vision to confront the crisis in their own countries and to cooperate in the global fight against HIV/AIDS," he said.
Stressing that HIV/AIDS is much more than a public health problem and impacts virtually every aspect of human endeavour, Mr. Hunte also urged interventions that "go hand in hand with policies that address poverty, socio-economic development, human welfare and social cohesion."
Prime Minister Arthur
Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur renewed his country's commitment to work in harmony with its Caribbean neighbours to alleviate the threat posed by AIDS to the region's stability and security. As a mark of that commitment, Barbados pledged to contribute $100,000 to the Global Fund.
For his part, the President of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufuor, said since 2001, the national AIDS Commission has disbursed $20 million out of an International Development Association (IDA) credit of $25 million to fund HIV/AIDS intervention projects by several organizations around the country. The country's prevalence rate of 3.4 per cent has not shown any reversal in the past two years and the Government is intensifying the pursuit of appropriate, cost-effective strategies to reduce this rate.
President Abdoulaye Wade said the fight against HIV/AIDS in Senegal rested upon a double imperative-rapid response and a spirit of anticipation. In addition to screening all blood donations, Senegal has begun to decentralize its anonymous HIV/AIDS centres, with religious leaders acting as a critical component of efforts to increase the public's awareness. These efforts have also benefited from a 95 per cent cut in the cost of antiretroviral drugs from large pharmaceutical groups.
Prime Minister Mosisili
Meanwhile, HIV/AIDS has been declared a "national disaster" in Lesotho, Prime Minister Pakalitha Bethuel Mosisili said. His Government continues to use every opportunity to help control and manage the pandemic. The primary focus in prevention has been on communication and education for behavioural change, particularly for youth. The Government is reviewing the national strategic plan in order to shift the national response from the health sector to a multisectoral and multistakeholder paradigm.
Portuguese President Jorge Fernando Branco de Sampaio said the epidemic was one of the most striking examples of the need to co-ordinate political guidelines and to take concrete measures "not unilaterally, but in solidarity." The international political agenda, while understandably concerned with the fight against terrorism, must not forget "this other source of terror."
For his part the President of Madagascar, Marc Ravalomanana, hoped that they all would leave today's meeting having made progress towards specific action and adequate means to implement it. "We must not wait, for AIDS is not waiting," he said, adding that "there can be no progress or development for a society that is ill."President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine said the National Programme on HIV prevention had made substantial progress in his country but there were still a number of problems, particularly financial. Still, he added, "I am confident that the engagement of resources of the Global Fund and of the World Bank will enable us to significantly improve the current situation."
Stressing the urgent need for coherent global policies against the scourge, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said inadequate resources, the lack of technical capacity in developing countries and the high cost of antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS victims were among the issues to be addressed internationally. He called for research priorities designed to take into account the health needs of developing countries.
President Jacques Chirac of France said the UN embodied a universal conscience in the fight against HIV/AIDS and there was no further excuse for inaction. Effective treatments now existed and had become accessible to the poorest nations. All governments now accepted that access to medications was inseparable from prevention, he added.
Speaking for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, President Joseph Kabila said that in the war against AIDS there could be no ceasefire or peace talks. His country was now working on antiretroviral treatments and on lowering mother-to-child transmissions, and was trying to jump-start its health sector response to the disease, he added.
Urging a scaling up of efforts in prevention, financing, access to medication, and coordination among the different initiatives, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika called for further efforts at the national, regional and international levels. He underscored the key role of the private sector and civil society in securing additional resources.
President Joaquim Alberto Chissano of Mozambique, Chairman of the African Union, called AIDS a worldwide challenge that required worldwide and integrated collaboration, emphasizing that the epidemic had drastically affected the social and economic fabric of communities and constituted a major obstacle to the achievement of the ambitious Millennium Development Goals of halving poverty and hunger, among other things, by 2015.For his part, President Pascal Couchepin of Switzerland, noting that 70 per cent of persons infected with the AIDS virus live in sub-Saharan Africa, stressed that it was necessary to persevere in all efforts aimed at making medication more accessible to those who need it.
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