UN SPECIAL SESSION ON HIV/AIDS SEEKS TO SPUR
Secretary-General’s Call to Action
NEW YORK, 20 June (UN Headquarters) -- The United Nations is set to mobilize a greatly intensified global response to the AIDS epidemic when it holds a special session on HIV/AIDS from 25 to 27 June in New York.
The General Assembly special session aims to galvanize political commitment and leadership to tackle what nations have agreed constitutes a "global emergency". Governments are expected to adopt a Declaration of Commitment setting out a series of strategic targets and timetables. Over 36 million people worldwide are infected with HIV and over 22 million have died.
"HIV/AIDS is a global problem of catastrophic proportions", said Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "The challenge is enormous, but we are not powerless to face it. That is why I have made it my personal priority to form a global alliance commensurate with the challenge."
The Secretary-General has embarked on a campaign to urge governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations to join forces for a massive mobilization against the epidemic. In a series of speeches to key audiences over the past two months, he has set out priority action areas and called for the creation of a global AIDS and health fund to channel some of the new funding required. "The world has the resources to defeat this epidemic, if it really wants to", the Secretary-General told a conference of private foundations in late April.
Spending on AIDS prevention and care in low and middle income countries needs to rise to between seven and ten billion dollars each year, according to estimates by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). This is at least five times the amount currently spent by citizens, national governments and international donors. Initial pledges of over $400 million for the global fund have already been received, and other commitments of additional money are expected at the special session and, among other important events, at the Group of Eight Highly Industrialized Countries (G-8) summit in Genoa in July.
Recent developments have set the stage for the special session to be a watershed event in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Several major pharmaceutical companies have announced steep price cuts for seriously affected countries for drugs used to treat AIDS or related infections. Starting with the Okinawa summit of the G-8 last year, many developed and developing country governments have stepped up their commitments for action. Most recently, African leaders pledged in Abuja at an Organization of African Unity (OAU) special summit to devote 15 per cent of their national budgets to the health sector and the struggle against HIV/AIDS.
"We have reached a point at which many factors and forces are coming together in a unique way", said Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS. "I believe that we now have an opportunity for a quantum leap forward in the way in which we respond, as an international community, to the epidemic. The Declaration of Commitment that national leaders adopt at the special session means that we have a new level of transparency and seriousness in turning back the epidemic. The millions of people infected and affected by HIV are watching this process, and they, quite rightly, have high expectations of the process and its outcomes."
Global Targets and Timetables
The draft Declaration of Commitment, expected to be adopted at the session, has taken shape over several months of informal talks led by two co-facilitators, Penny Wensley of Australia and Ibra Deguène Ka of Senegal. Building on the targets adopted at the United Nations Millennium Summit, agreement has been reached on a number of key goals, including:
Governments have also agreed in principle to reach, by 2005, the overall target of annual expenditure on the epidemic of between seven and ten billion dollars in low and middle income countries, and to support the establishment of the global fund proposed by the Secretary-General. It is expected that the few remaining contentious issues –- primarily concerning human rights and vulnerable groups –- will be resolved in consultations just prior to the special session or during the session itself.
Most governments will be represented at the special session by cabinet ministers, but a number of heads of State or government have confirmed their plans to attend the special session, reflecting the importance being given to the epidemic by national leaders.
Round Tables and Special Events
At the special session, in addition to making formal statements, governments, non-governmental organization s and private sector representatives will participate in four round tables, an innovative format used at the Millennium Summit to encourage interaction among leaders. The round tables will focus on key issues, namely:
Non-governmental organizations and the private sector are playing a crucial role in the battle against AIDS. At the special session, several CEOs are expected to announce initiatives, and the Global Business Council on HIV/AIDS will be launching its blueprint for business action.
Over 2,000 representatives of some 500 activist groups, service organizations, people living with HIV/AIDS and the private sector are expected to attend the special session, and their spokespersons will make statements in the plenary and participate in the round tables. Several dialogue sessions have been held between non-governmental organizations and governments to allow wider input into the Declaration of Commitment. Dozens of side events have been organized both inside and outside the United Nations premises in order to give expression to a range of views on issues and challenges. These include presentations by people living with AIDS and by volunteers and others working on the front lines of the battle against the epidemic. A schedule of all events can be found at the session Web site: www.un.org/ga/aids. Further information on the issue can be found at the UNAIDS Web site, www.unaids.org
The many United Nations agencies and programmes working on fighting AIDS will also be actively participating in the special session, as they gear up to help mobilize and support an intensified global response to the crisis. In November 2000 the General Assembly decided to convene the special session in 2001.
Andrew Shih, UNAIDS
Anne Winter, UNAIDS
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