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    UNIS/SG/2457
    1 December 1999 
    In World AIDS Day Message, Secretary-General Notes Continuing
    Death Toll, Urges Stepped-up Efforts Towards Prevention and Cure

     
    Worldwide 11 Million Children Said to be Orphaned by Epidemic; Need for Focus on Youth, Education in Healthy Sexuality is Stressed

     NEW YORK, 26 November  (UN Headquarters) -- This is the text of a message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to mark the observance of World AIDS Day on 1 December:

     On this last World AIDS day of the 20th century, we still have no cure for AIDS.  Nor do we have a vaccine to prevent the spread of HIV. We have seen a growing number of successes in the global fight against the epidemic, but they are not nearly numerous nor widespread enough. As we enter the 21st century, we must step up the fight on many fronts. We must reach out to children and young people as the key to fighting AIDS in the future.

     HIV has infected more than 50 million people so far.  Of them, 16 million have died already.  This year alone, the epidemic claimed a record 2.6 million lives.  And in Africa, for the first time, infected women aged 15 to 49 outnumber infected men.

     Half of those infected this year are people under the age of 25.  They will probably die before they turn 35.  They will leave behind children who not only face a future as orphans, but often the added burdens of poverty and stigma.

     Altogether, a staggering 11.2 million children — nine in ten of them from Africa — have been orphaned by AIDS since the start of the epidemic.  As the number of adult AIDS deaths grows, so will the number of orphans.

     These statistics are vivid reminders that all over the world children and young people are at grave risk.  We have to ask ourselves why.  A big part of the answer is that adults spend too much time telling young people what to do without listening to what they need: affection, close bonds with adults, and education about healthy sexuality.  In addition, violence, poverty and discrimination create further risks of HIV in young people's lives.

     That is why in this last year of the 20th century, the "Listen, Learn, Live" World AIDS Campaign has continued to focus on children and young people worldwide.  Working with people under 25 is perhaps the best hope we have today of bringing the epidemic under control.

     That means fighting the conspiracy of silence.  Those who are ignorant about the risks they face from this invisible virus can do nothing to protect themselves or their loved ones.  By withholding vital information, especially from young people, we help fuel an epidemic driven by unsafe sex and drug practices.

     And we must continue to battle the culture of shame.  Hiding AIDS behind a curtain of stigma helps to spread it.  Speaking out about AIDS helps slow it down.  Experience shows that the stigma surrounding HIV infection can be significantly reduced by educating adolescents about HIV/AIDS, and by dispelling myths about its causes.

     On this last World AIDS Day of the 20th century, let us reach out to children and young people not only to reduce risks for the uninfected, but also to open our arms to the infected.  Let us think of dialogue as the first step to action.  Let us think of new ways to listen, learn and live.

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