Calling the struggle against the HIV/AIDS pandemic “the greatest challenge of our generation,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan tonight called on international leaders to make sure they deliver on all the promises that their governments have made.
Attending an inter-faith event at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York on the eve of World AIDS Day, Mr. Annan said the international community has finally begun to take the fight seriously, devoting greater financial resources and giving more and more people access to antiretroviral treatment.
Yet the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, known as UNAIDS, estimated recently that 39.5 million people around the world live with HIV and another 4.3 million will be infected this year, with nearly two out of every three new infections occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. Significant increases in rates of infection have also been reported in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
At least 25 million have now died from AIDS-related diseases in the 25 years since the first case was reported, and this year alone almost 3 million people will die. The pandemic is the leading cause of death among both men and women aged between 15 and 59.
“Because the response has started to gain real momentum, the stakes are higher now than ever,” Mr. Annan said. “We cannot risk letting the advances that have been achieved unravel; we must not jeopardize the heroic efforts of so many,” adding that “leaders must hold themselves accountable – and be held accountable by all of us.”
He urged the leaders to strengthen protections for all vulnerable groups, whether people living with HIV, young people, sex workers, injecting drug users or men who have sex with men.
The theme for this year’s observation of World AIDS Day is accountability, and the idea that “AIDS stops with me.”
The Secretary-General said accountability applies not only to world leaders, but to “all of us,” from business leaders who can campaign for HIV prevention in the workplace to health workers and faith-based groups who can listen and provide care to sufferers without passing judgement.
“It requires fathers, husbands, sons and brothers to support and affirm the rights of women. It requires teachers to nurture the dreams and aspirations of girls. It requires men to help ensure that other men assume their responsibility – and understand that real manhood means protecting others from risk.
“And it requires every one of us to help bring AIDS out of the shadows, and spread the message that silence is death.”
In an opinion column published yesterday in USA Today, Mr. Annan outlined many of the steps he has taken to fight the AIDS pandemic during his 10-year tenure as Secretary-General, such as the establishment of UNAIDS, and promised to “keep spreading that message.”