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AIDS Remains Global Worry

it ain't that simple
by William M. Reilly
UPI U.N. Correspondent
United Nations (UPI) May 23, 2007
The President of the U.N. General Assembly earlier this week opened a mandated review of efforts to stem the AIDS epidemic with some pretty sobering statistics and some advice on what to do about the continuing emergency yet voiced optimism the battle could be won. Sheikha Haya al-Khalifa of Bahrain, president of the 192-member assembly, said Monday since HIV/AIDS had been first discovered in 1981, more than 25 million people had died and continue dying at the rate of 8,000 a day, with 6,000 more becoming infected daily.

There were about 4.1 million new infections last year leaving approximately 40 million people infected, including 17 million women, she said, adding 12 million children in Africa have been orphaned by AIDS.

"HIV/AIDS is a nightmare that haunts us all and demands (the) immediate and sustained engagement of the world community."

Khalifa said the pandemic tests everyone, "not only in our willingness to respond, but also in the divisions that shape our response."

That response was not a question of either treatment or prevention, or even what kind of prevention; it was all of them combined, she said. It was also not an issue of either science or values; it was both.

The world would never be entirely secure, unless the international community tackled poverty, injustice and inequality, and HIV/AIDS was related to all three, the assembly president said, pointing out the security dimension.

As HIV/AIDS had spread, it had devastated entire populations leaving some countries more fragile and exposed to all sorts of dangers, including civil wars, she said. AIDS also hindered development, devastated economies in the developing world and widened even further the gap between the richest and poorest countries. It destroyed hope, dreams and aspirations.

She reminded U.N. member countries the pandemic was worse in the poorest of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for 62 percent of global infections and the majority of overall deaths due to the disease.

The disease has taken on a new face in the region -- a feminine one.

HIV/AIDS infections were up to six times higher for young women than for young men, Khalifa said. As a result, nearly 1,000 children died everyday in Africa.

She said such deaths could not only be stopped but the rate reversed.

"What we need is a partnership between governments, multilateral institutions, civil society, non-governmental organizations, scientists, doctors, as well as individuals," Khalifa said. "Most importantly, we need to engage those living with HIV/AIDS and those at greatest risk of infection -- women and children -- to be at the center of the response."

Many women find it difficult or embarrassing to talk about HIV/AIDS, she said. Many women would rather not get the treatment they need, or stop their children from contracting the disease, because they did not want, or did not know, how to cope with the fear and stigma of HIV/AIDS.

Establishing healthy behavior when children were young, rather than asking them to change practices later in life, may improve matters, the assembly president said. If world leaders honored their commitment and lived up to their promises, then young people would have the reproductive health services and information to meet their needs. Young people needed a good education.

Working with drug companies to reduce the costs of anti-retroviral drugs and helping developing countries build their health systems in order to treat those infected were also suggested. Such efforts should be coupled with making sure that those getting treatment also had enough food to eat.

She called for a comprehensive approach in the fight and for the assembly to keep abreast of what is happening in relation to the AIDS fight.

"We must constantly ask ourselves: What are we doing to fight this global emergency, and what more can we do?" Khalifa said. "Future generations will either praise us, or hold us accountable for our failure to prevent the spread of this disease. This is a make or break time, but beating this disease is entirely within our reach."

In connection with the assembly session, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with U.N. staff living with HIV from across regions and agencies of the world organizations, his spokeswoman, Michele Montas, told reporters Tuesday.

After the meeting Montas said he described the meeting as one of the most moving experiences in his life.

He told colleagues he has met many people in his life -- presidents, kings, diplomats -- but this was one of the most important events of his life. He said that he was very touched by their courage and, more, by their directness in talking about their lives.

The secretary-general spoke about the discrimination those with HIV often face in many parts of the world, including in Asia and his own country, South Korea.

"I felt ashamed on their behalf," Montas quoted Ban as saying.

Source: United Press International

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