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Partnership to Fight AIDS

in Africa Launched in UN

NewYourk , Uninted Nations – Calling the incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa "a humanitarian emergency… beyond the imagination of those who do not live there," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Monday launched an international partnership against HIV/AIDS to fight the deadly disease on all fronts.

The secretary-general's action came at a December 6-7 U.N. program just days after Africa's AIDS orphans were the focus of a December 1 symposium at U.N. headquarters to commemorate World AIDS Day, attended by health experts, AIDS activists, and celebrities dedicated to fighting the scourge.

Annan noted that southern and eastern Africa, with less than 5 percent of the world's populations, is home to more than 50 percent of those living with HIV and has experienced 60 percent of all AIDS deaths. Of the 25 most affected countries of the world, 24 are in Africa. By the end of 1999, the global AIDS epidemic will have left 11 million orphans, 90 percent of them African children.

"AIDS leaves poor societies poorer still, and thus even more vulnerable to infection. It brings in its wake discrimination, prejudice, and often violations of human rights. It is taking away not only Africa's present, but also its future," the secretary-general said.

Annan called for an "unprecedented response" in the form of a comprehensive and coordinated strategy from governments, private corporations, community groups, businesses, the media, and individuals that "makes humanity live up to its name."

Organized by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the two-day session is exploring better ways of responding to the epidemic - in fact by May 2000 the partnership must have an agreed upon plan of action. Thereafter, "each year we must be able to report significant progress toward meeting the goal of reducing infection in young people by one-quarter before the year 2005," the secretary-general said.

"Our response so far has failed Africa, " he declared. "From now on, let us resolve that failure is not an option."

Dr.Peter Piot, UNAIDS executive director, said that everyone must "scale up by a factor of 10 our collective response to the AIDS epidemic in Africa. We cannot do this by pursuing business as usual. It means nothing less than putting AIDS at the heart of our development agenda and acting in a way commensurate with the scale of this crisis.

"We will have to justify to history why we have only provided one-tenth of what is demanded, " he added. "Our pledge to history must be that in the next five, 10,15 years we will move from 10 percent to 90 percent."

The new international partnership is the critical mechanism to address this new intentional commitment, the UNAIDS executive director said.

Over the next few months UNAIDS hopes to complete negotiations on a framework for action that includes a work plan for the first two years of the partnership. It will include recommendations on how UNAIDS can bring together the five pillars of the partnership - African governments, African civil society, donor countries, the private sector, and the United Nations system into one concerted, synergistic response to the epidemic in Africa, Dr.Piot said.

He said the framework will include specific recommendations on such factors as care of HIV/AIDS victims, counseling, community-led responses, how to get drugs to the poorest, and how employers can protect work forces from becoming further infected.

Annan said that he first objective of the partnership' strategy must be to "break the conspiracy of silence at every level."

Citing outstanding efforts in Uganda, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, the secretary-general said that "most African governments have now understood that the first battle to be won in the war against AIDS is the battle to smash the wall of silence and stigma surrounding it… They are now speaking out, making a real effort to involve the whole of society in the struggle.

"We look to African governments to take the lead in obliterating the stigma surrounding AIDS at every level of society, and thus make every man, woman, and child in their countries understand that facing up to it is a point of honor, not a source of shame, "Annan said.

Annan said that the partnership's other man objectives must be to meet the needs of those already infected and their families, to make effective treatment available at a price African societies can afford, to speed up the work on developing a vaccine, and to use every available means to halt the spread of the disease.

The secretary-general said that those gathered at U.N. headquarters - African governments , U.N officials, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) donors, private foundations, and others - must "move beyond flag-waving, boundary-setting, and turf squabbling into working together in a truly coordinated response" on the country and the global level

First, he said, the partnership must listen to the needs and assessments of the local people working in their own communities and give them the strategic support they deserve.

Second, Africa's political leaders must provide the vision and dedication to drive national responses forward and convince donors and corporate partners "that they mean business and fighting this disease is their top priority," the secretary-general said.

Third, national and international non-governmental organizations must be engaged from top to bottom in making policy and in implementing it, Annan continued.

Fourth, the corporate sector and foundations must find ways of easing the epidemic's worst impacts, help fund and run prevention and therapy programs, protect and educate local workers, and educate and convince their own shareholders and clients to address the need for affordable medicines and research into a vaccine he said.

Fifth, Annan said the U.N. agencies - the World Health Organization (W.H.O), the U.N. population Fund.

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