Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has helped officially open the Global Village at the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, which offers a space for communities living with and affected by HIV, policymakers, researchers and the general public to share information and ideas about the pandemic.
Mr. Ban joined the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme of HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Dr. Peter Piot, yesterday in opening the space, which covers over 8,000 square metres and is open to everyone attending the Conference.
The aim of the space is to enable greater civil society involvement and strengthen diverse communities’ involvement and participation in shaping the response to HIV, according to UNAIDS.
While at the Village, the Secretary-General and his wife, Ban Soon-taek, saw a performance by the “Dance for Life” group and heard from people who are infected with HIV in an interactive discussion.
Mr. Ban emphasized that the people he had met were at the heart of the AIDS response, and he told them, “I profoundly admire your courage and commitment.” He called for renewed leadership in eradicating stigma and discrimination associated with HIV.
Among his other activities yesterday, the Secretary-General met separately with Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa.
Speaking to reporters after his meeting with the President, Mr. Ban commended Mexico for providing regional leadership in the response to the AIDS pandemic, including the President’s call to combat all forms of HIV-related stigma and discrimination and for an end to homophobia.
He also welcomed the plan to remove certain restrictions on access to the local pharmaceutical market, so that laboratories from other countries will be able to introduce and sell medicines in Mexico, starting with antiretrovirals.
“That will help achieve more competitive antiretroviral prices in Mexico,” Mr. Ban said, while also commending Mexico’s policy that all antiretroviral medications are to be offered to all those in need free of charge.
The two leaders also discussed Haiti, where recent unrest and political instability have shown the fragility of the stabilization process.
Also yesterday, the Secretary-General addressed a joint session of the Mexican Senate and Chamber of Deputies, telling them that the world faces three critical challenges on which their engagement is essential: a climate crisis, a food crisis, and an emerging development emergency. Each by itself is a formidable threat, yet they are deeply intertwined and require a truly global response, he noted.
Mr. Ban also noted the “great strides” towards democracy made in the Americas. At the same time, he said that while meaningful elections are one measure of progress by which Latin America has fared well, there is also a need for the non-electoral aspects of democracy to establish deeper roots.
“We should be concerned when people say they would sacrifice democracy for economic and social progress, since it is possible to have both,” he stated.
Mr. Ban added that strengthening the independence of the judiciary and protections for human rights would give citizens throughout the Americas a greater sense of participation.
“It would also go some way toward addressing the misgivings of some that democracy is not responding to the needs of the poor, and that the poor lack a voice while the powerful escape accountability,” he added.
Stressing the importance of the freedom of the press, he said he was encouraged to know that the Mexican Parliament signed a bill last year that effectively eliminated criminal penalties at the federal level for defamation. “Journalists need this protection so that they can carry out their work without running the risk of being jailed. This is especially helpful for their efforts to report on corruption or other transnational threats,” Mr. Ban said.