Press Releases

    DSG/SM/180
    AIDS/47
    27 November 2002

    FEAR OF STIGMA AS BAD AS DISEASE ITSELF,
    DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL
    SAYS IN WORLD AIDS DAY REMARKS

    NEW YORK, 26 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the remarks made by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette at an event to mark World AIDS Day today, 26 November 2002:

    I am delighted to see so many prominent people join us for this event to mark World AIDS Day.

    Ms. Goldberg, Ms. Curry, Kami the Muppet, and others -- my very sincere thanks to you all for being here. You are all invaluable allies in our fight against AIDS.

    That fight is as urgent as ever. The annual Epidemic Update released by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) today tells us that the global epidemic continues to grow. There have been 5 million new HIV infections this year, and more than 3 million AIDS-related deaths. Forty-two million people are now living with HIV/AIDS.

    That means that, around the world, HIV/AIDS continues to create a terrible burden for millions of individuals, families and communities.

    As we gather here today, a famine is threatening large parts of southern Africa. It is a famine partially caused by AIDS, which ruthlessly debilitates both human beings and the social and economic structures that hold societies together.

    It is hard to imagine a more cruel or crippling combination. The AIDS epidemic has already caused untold suffering by killing young men and women and leaving millions of children orphaned. Now it is making it intolerably difficult for these countries to resist famine, as it weakens exactly those coping mechanisms that enable populations to fight back.

    Relieving the burden of HIV/AIDS requires improved health care, better access to treatments, more vigorous prevention efforts, more effective social outreach and support for those most vulnerable -- particularly children orphaned by AIDS, of whom there are some 14 million worldwide.

    And then there is the other burden imposed by AIDS -- a burden which is equally horrendous, but one which each and every one of us has the capacity to relieve: the burden of HIV-related stigma.

    The impact or the fear of stigma can be as detrimental as the virus itself. The solitude and lack of support it entails is wounding to those who suffer it -- as Kami has so movingly shown her young viewers on South Africa’s Sesame Street. It should also hurt every one of us, for it is an affront to our common humanity.

    Some people living with, or even suspected of having, HIV are being denied basic rights such as food or shelter, and dismissed from jobs they are perfectly fit to perform. They may be denied

    insurance or even access to health services. They may be shunned by their community or, most tragic of all, by their own family.

    The fear of stigma leads to silence, and when it comes to fighting AIDS, silence is death. It suppresses public discussions about AIDS, and deters people from finding out whether they are infected.

    It can cause people to risk transmitting HIV for fear of attracting suspicion that they might be infected -- whether a mother breastfeeding her child or a sexual partner reluctant to disclose their HIV status.

    In order to break the walls of stigma and silence, leaders must speak out at the highest level. The rights of people living with HIV/AIDS must be defended, including in the workplace. Schools, the media and youth education programmes must help to create a generation better equipped to live in the world of AIDS. There is heartening evidence that this is happening already in some places, but it needs to happen on every continent, in very country, in every place where AIDS has struck.

    Last year, at a special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS, all the Member States of the United Nations unanimously adopted a Declaration of Commitment which sent a message that resonated loud and clear around the world. It called on countries to enact or enforce legislation outlawing discrimination against people living with HIV and members of vulnerable groups.

    But whatever laws and regulations are adopted, the most powerful weapons against stigma and silence are the voices of the world’s people speaking up about AIDS.

    That is why this year’s World AIDS Campaign challenges us -- under the slogan "Live and Let Live" -- to ensure that all people, with or without HIV, can realize their human rights and live in dignity.

    It challenges leaders everywhere to demonstrate by example that speaking up about AIDS is a point of pride, not a source of shame.

    It challenges us to replace stigma with support, fear with hope, silence with solidarity.

    It challenges us to act on the understanding that this work begins with each and every one of us.

    I am grateful to all of you here today for setting an example, which I hope will inspire many others to act. Thank you very much for being here and I thank you very much for your attention.

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