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    Note to Correspondents   Note No. 107
           4 December 2000
     Educating Young People Best Insurance against Spread of HIV/AIDS,
    World Aids Day Observance Told

    NEW YORK, 1 December (UN Headquarters) -- Men were involved in almost every case of HIV transmission, and the theme of this year’s World AIDS Day -– “AIDS:  Men Make a Difference” – was, therefore, key to stopping the spread of the devastating disease, General Assembly President Harri Holkeri (Finland) said this morning, as he led the observance of that occasion at United Nations Headquarters.

    Stressing the need for responsible behaviour, he said the theme was important because it was necessary to recognize those who behaved in a responsible and considerate manner.  Yet, it was also necessary to convince those men who still perceived protection against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases as unmanly that they were wrong.  Men had the power to protect themselves, as well as their partners.  Masculinity was a positive force, whose full potential must be harnessed to stop the spread of AIDS.

    He said that educating young people about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases was the best insurance in a world where 15,000 people were infected with HIV every day.  The majority of them were young, young women and girls being more vulnerable than boys.  Of the more than 34 million people living with AIDS today, 5.4 million were new infections that occurred in 1999.  Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 were at greatest risk, representing more than half of all new infections.

    At the Millennium Summit, he recalled heads of State and government had resolved that HIV/AIDS was a threat to development and a serious cause of poverty.  It represented one of the three major issues to be tackled in Africa, the continent most severely threatened by the pandemic.  Today’s observance launched preparations for a special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS, to be held from 25 to 27 June 2001. 

    He called on parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and friends to help boys and young men recognize the positive potential of their power and the positive role they could play as future fathers, husbands, brothers, sons and friends.  Role models and attitudes were moulded at home, where the spirit of responsibility, tolerance, non-violence, gender equality and compassion could be cultivated in the upbringing of children.

    Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said that men could show more care and consideration for others by taking fewer risks and facing the HIV/AIDS issue head-on, because silence was deadly.  As representatives of various walks of life in which men’s attitudes were formed, men attending today’s observance could certainly make a difference to the discussion about changing male attitudes and behaviour to halt the spread of AIDS. 

    Many nations had shown that a constant struggle could contain the spread of AIDS -- a struggle in which everyone could make a difference, she said.  The millennium was the year in which a commitment should be made for decisive action, lest future generations be burdened with the global pandemic.  Some regions had recently seen an explosive spread of the disease, while in others there were signs that it had stabilized, though far too many people had already been infected. 

    At the Millennium Summit, world leaders had resolved that the spread of AIDS would be halted and reversed by the year 2015.  The special session of the General Assembly on AIDS to be held next June would be a chance to follow up on that resolve and to continue building the necessary partnerships between governments, donors, the United Nations family, civil society, and the private sector.

    In welcoming remarks, Kensaku Hogen, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, noted that since the establishment of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in 1996, the single day’s observance had been expanded into a year-long World AIDS Campaign, with World AIDS Day as a focal point.

    How do men make a difference? he asked.  According to UNAIDS, men had the power to change the epidemic’s course by adopting more positive attitudes and behaviours.  By challenging accepted ideas about masculinity, working to change the way men viewed sexuality, and changing the ways in which boys were socialized to become men, much could be done in combating the spread of the disease.

     Elhadj Sy, representative of the UNAIDS New York Office, described the theme as a call on men to participate actively in the fight against AIDS.  Studies had shown that 45 per cent of women with HIV had been infected by a single contact, and that contact was usually their regular partner.  Infection from men to women was much greater than the reverse, and men contracted the virus much more frequently through drug use and other contacts.  It was time for men to acquire pro-active health-maintaining behaviour, and respond to participate in both prevention and treatment.

    He said men must also respond by building the necessary partnerships; moving from blame to inclusion and support; from violence to self-esteem and respect for the other.  Turning back the epidemic required wide social mobilization, including prevention and care.  It required both political action and personal behaviour change.  Those were areas in which men could really make a difference.

     During the ensuing discussion, participants raised several concerns, including the need to move beyond rhetoric to concrete action, the need to fight HIV/AIDS as a war, and the need to promote the positive “glamour” of healthy sexual behaviour, particularly among young people and men.  Much of the discussion focused on the strategies of loveLife, a South African non-governmental organization that uses brand identity and a massive media campaign to influence the sexual behaviour of adolescents.  Access to adequate health services, sexual education and relevant information for those vulnerable to AIDS was also discussed.

     Riz Khan, a news anchor with Cable News Network (CNN) International, moderated the discussion, which was held in a town hall format.

    Among the featured participants in the event were Nafis Sadik, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); Mashapa Machaba, Joel Makitla, David Schneider, Eric Mandla Sibeko and Judi Nwokedi of loveLife, South Africa's national HIV prevention programme; and Wendy Fitzwilliam, Miss Universe 1990 (Trinidad and Tobago) and a UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador.

    Others included Mechai Viravaidya, Chairman, Population and Development Association (Thailand); Fisho Mwale, Deputy Mayor, African Mayors' Initiative for Community Action on AIDS at the Local Level (Zambia); Rubamira Ruranga, National Coordinator, Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (Uganda); Jane Galvao, Adviser, International Cooperation, National STD/AIDS Programme, Ministry of Health (Brazil); and Steve Perrine, Editorial Creative Director, Men's Health magazine.

    Today's event was co-sponsored by UNICEF, UNFPA, and loveLife/The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  It was organized by the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) and UNAIDS

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