STIGMA AFFECTING HIV/AIDS VICTIMS CAN BE AS DETRIMENTAL
At Headquarters Town-Hall Meeting, General Assembly President,
NEW YORK, 26 November (UN Headquarters) -- The fight against HIV/AIDS is more urgent than ever, with the pandemic continuing to grow and imposing a terrible burden on millions of families and individuals worldwide, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said at a town-hall meeting at Headquarters this afternoon.
Citing the latest statistics from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), she said the disease had struck 5 million people over the past year and led to 3 million deaths. Ms. Fréchette was speaking in observance of World Aids Day, whose theme this year is "Live and Let live, Stigma and Discrimination".
Equally horrendous, she said, was fear of the stigma affecting victims of the disease, which could be as detrimental as the virus itself. Some people living with or suspected of having AIDS were denied basic rights such as food or shelter, insurance or access to health services, and were shunned by their communities or families.
Fear of the AIDS stigma led to silence, which had suppressed public discussion about AIDS and led people to risk transmitting the disease for fear of attracting undue attention. To break down the walls of that stigma, leaders must speak out at the highest level, and victims must be defended on every continent and in every nation and every workplace.
This year the world's AIDS campaign had adopted the slogan -- Live and Let Live, Stigma and Discrimination -- challenging the international community to speak up about the disease with pride rather than shame. The slogan challenged people to act with the understanding that work to combat the pandemic began with each and every one.
Jan Kavan, President of the General Assembly, said that the stigma and discrimination linked to HIV/AIDS still kept many nations and communities in denial about the epidemic, contributing to its spread and further loss of life. Noting that over 42 million adults and children were living with AIDS, he pointed out that society's disavowal of HIV/AIDS victims ranged from refusal of health-care services to eviction from their homes.
Noting that the World Aids Day campaign focused on all elements playing a role in effective prevention and care to arrest the spread of the disease, he said that removing stigma and discrimination was a key component of that effort. He expressed his appreciation to guests at the meeting, who would share their experiences publicly, thus supporting the work of the United Nations in helping remove the stigma and shame attached to HIV/AIDS.
Actress Whoopi Goldberg said HIV/AIDS had developed into a completely indiscriminate monster since it first became known in 1983. Although it was now a familiar threat, young people today had begun to ignore the obvious -- the stigma and discrimination HIV/AIDS victims suffered worldwide -- and the need to talk to, educate and protect children. The situation had gone beyond a horrific science-fiction movie -- particularly in Africa and the Caribbean -- as AIDS became a worldwide phenomenon. If action was not taken, humanity would be condemned.
Ms. Goldberg introduced Kami from Takalani Sesame, South Africa’s production of Sesame Street -- a recently introduced HIV-positive Muppet. Kami, a 5-year-old AIDS orphan, told the participants about her friends and about living with HIV/AIDS. She said she loved Kofi Annan because he loved the entire world, and she hoped that everyone would get along.
As the meeting continued, Ann Curry of the NBC Today Show moderated a general discussion about the epidemic. Participants, several of whom suffered from HIV/AIDS, or had lost relatives to the disease, stressed the need for education, understanding, prevention, compassion and access to treatment. It was no longer possible to accept inactivity with regard to HIV/AIDS, and funding must be made available for awareness-raising, prevention and treatment.
Other speakers drew attention to the sobering statistics on HIV/AIDS, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where some 30 per cent or more of the populations of four countries had contracted the virus. They highlighted the important role civil society, including civic, professional, clergy and non-governmental organizations could play in combating the disease. However, participants also stressed that governments must play their part by ensuring that policies on AIDS were effectively implemented.
Also participating at the meeting was Desmond Johns, Director of the UNAIDS New York Office, who made opening remarks and introduced the main speakers.
This afternoon's meeting was co-sponsored by the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI), UNAIDS, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank.
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