Magazine article UN Chronicle

Facing It Head-On. We Can. We Must. (from the Secretary-General)

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Facing It Head-On. We Can. We Must. (from the Secretary-General)

Article excerpt

This is a conference about Africa's future. The incidence of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases is higher on this continent than on any other. Of course, this fact is connected to Africa's other problems. Africans are vulnerable to these diseases because they are poor, undernourished, and too often uninformed of basic precautions, or unwilling to take them.

Many are vulnerable because they have neither safe drinking water nor access to basic health care. They are vulnerable, in short, because their countries are underdeveloped. And, therefore, the best cure for all these diseases is economic growth and broad-based development. We all know that. But we also know that, in the best of cases, development is going to take time. And we know that disease, like war, is not only a product of underdevelopment. It is also one of the biggest obstacles preventing our societies from developing as they should. That is especially true of HIV/AIDS, which takes its biggest toll among young adults--the age group that normally produces most, and has the main responsibility for rearing the next generation. That is why AIDS has become not only the primary cause of death on this continent, but our biggest development challenge. And that is why I have made the battle against it my personal priority. ... We are here to face a continent-wide emergency. We cannot afford to treat it as just one aspect of the battle for development, because it will not wait for us to win that battle. The cost--whether measured in human misery today or in loss of hope for tomorrow--is simply too high. We have to turn and face it head-on.

First, let us be clear what our objectives are. I believe they can be put very simply under five headings:

One: Prevention. Our first objective must be to halt and reverse the spread of the virus-as all world leaders resolved to do at last year's Millennium Summit-and so to save succeeding generations from this scourge. Prevention can save many millions of lives, and in several African countries it has been shown to work. Everyone who is not yet infected must know what they need to do to avoid infection. We must give young people the knowledge and power to protect themselves. We need to inform, inspire and mobilize them, through an awareness campaign such as the world has never seen, using radio, television and professional marketing techniques, as well as more conventional tools of education.

That campaign must reach girls as well as boys. At present, in sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls are six times more likely to be infected than boys. That is something which should make all of us African men deeply ashamed and angry. And once they know what they need to do, young people must have the means to do it. That means they must have support from their families and communities, as well as access to voluntary counselling and testing and-when appropriate-to condoms.

Two: We must prevent the cruellest, most unjust infections of all-those that pass from mother to child. All mothers must be able to find out whether they are HIV-positive or not. And those who are must have access to short-term anti-retroviral therapy, which has been shown to halve the risk of transmission. In some cases, the risk can also be reduced by alternatives to breastfeeding. But these must be approached with caution, since breastfeeding is the best protection against many other diseases.

Three: We must put care and treatment within everyone's reach. Even a year ago, few people thought that effective treatment could be brought within reach of poor people in developing countries. Those already infected with HIV were condemned to be treated like lepers in earlier times-as people from whom the healthy had to be protected, but for whom nothing could be done.

Now, however, there has been a worldwide revolt of public opinion. People no longer accept that the sick and dying, simply because they are poor, should be denied drugs which have transformed the lives of others who are better off. …

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