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General Assembly Pledges Support for War against AIDS

Article excerpt

General Assembly pledges support for war against AIDS

Over the next five years, as many as 3 million more people worldwide could develop acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), a debilitating, fatal disease which has now reached pandemic proportions and as yet has no cure.

AIDS "is a global challenge of unprecedented proportions. It affects and threatens all countries -- North and South, East and West, rich and poor, of whatever political and economic orientation", Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar told the plenary which considered the topic as a priority issue. "It raises crucial social, humanitarian and legal issues, threatening to undermine the fabric of tolerance and understanding upon which our societies must function."

At a special meeting on 20 October, Dr. Halfdan Mahler, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), and Dr. Jonathan Mann, Director of the WHO Special Programme on AIDS, described the efforts of the WHO Global Strategy against AIDS. Without a concerted international effort, the disease could devastate populations and cripple health services.

The officials also announced the creation of a WHO Global Commission on AIDS, which will include experts in health, social, economic, legal, ethical and biomedical fields, to advise WHO officials of developments in various aspects of the disease, Dr. Mahler said.

Member States voiced united opinions during the October debate about the need for open communication and support of WHO efforts to combat the disease.

Confirming that WHO should continue to direct and co-ordinate the "urgent global battle against AIDS", the Assembly commended Governments which have established programmes to control AIDS in line with WHO Global Strategy, as well as WHO efforts to prevent AIDS and its support of national AIDS programmes and regional meetings.

In resolution 42/8, adopted without vote, the world body also called upon all States, in addressing the AIDS problem, to take into account the legitimate concerns of other countries and inter-State relations; invited WHO to facilitate the exchange of information on and promotion of national and international research for the control of AIDS, through further development of the Collaborating Centres of WHO and existing mechanisms; and asked the Secretary-General to ensure a co-ordinated response to the AIDS pandemic through the United Nations system and other organizations in line with WHO's Global Strategy.

First identified in the late 1970s, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) remains dormant in the body for a number of years before a person develops AIDS, Dr. Mann told the Assembly. Some people carry the virus and never get the disease, he added.

AIDS is spread through sexual contact, blood transfusions, sharing of contaminated needles, and may pass on from an infected mother to child before birth. It is believed that the virus cannot be transmitted through food, water, insects, toilet seats, swimming pools, telephones, shaking hands, hugging, coughing or sneezing, he said.

"There is no evidence, anywhere in the world, for casual transmission or for person-to-person spread in schools or in the work place," Dr. Mann said. "AIDS should be seen as a disease spread by, and controllable through, conscious human behaviour."

An increased global openness in dealing with AIDS is reflected in reporting to WHO. By December 1987, some 129 countries had reported 73,747 cases. In January 1986, only 69 countries reported any presence of the disease. Nine countries reported 1,000 cases or more; 34 countries reported 100 cases or more.

However, lack of reporting and underreporting underestimate the true incidence of AIDS, Dr. Mann said. WHO estimates that between 100,000 and 150,000 people have AIDS, and between 5 and 10 million people are currently infected with the AIDS virus. Between 10 and 30 per cent of those infected can be expected to develop AIDS in the next five years, resulting in 500,000 to 3 million new AIDS cases by 1992. …