Declaring the HIV/AIDS epidemic ‘€œthe most formidable development challenge of our time’€, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called on governments to secure a global commitment for intensified and coordinated action

Declaring the HIV/AIDS epidemic “the most formidable development challenge of our time”, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called on governments to secure a global commitment for intensified and co-ordinated action.

The UN report quoting Annan calls for intensified and broadened political and financial commitments by nations in their response to the AIDS crisis.

Alarmed by the accelerating epidemic and its global impact, the UN General Assembly decided in November 2000 to hold a Special Session on HIV/AIDS at the highest political level.

The UN report has been issued in preparation for the General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, which will take place in New York from 25 to 27 June 2001.

The Session follows calls for concrete action made in the UN Millennium Declaration, adopted in September 2000 by world leaders at the Millennium Summit.

The first round of substantive negotiations for the Special Session are set to take place the week of 26 February, based on the report.

More specifically, the report calls on governments worldwide to meet a set of seven critical challenges that will help reverse the AIDS epidemic:

Effective leadership and co-ordination;

alleviating the social and economic impact of the epidemic;

reducing the vulnerability of particular social groups to HIV infection;

achieving agreed targets for the prevention of HIV infection;

ensuring that care and support is available to people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS;

developing relevant and effective international commodities;

mobilising the necessary level of financial resources.

“Leadership is fundamental to an effective response,” said Annan, referring to one of the challenges highlighted in the report.

“One of the key issues facing the global community is developing and sustaining such dedicated leadership, vital if the nature of the epidemic is to be clearly understood throughout society and a national response mobilised.”

Another core challenge is to alleviate the epidemic’€™s social and economic impacts. In many countries, AIDS has significantly undermined key sectors.

Its negative impact is evident in economic development, education, health and agriculture.

In addition, conflict, war, economic uncertainty, gender inequality and social exclusion have all made people more vulnerable to HIV infection, according to the report.

The report also states that an expanded prevention effort is vital to containing the spread of the epidemic and spending on prevention helps avert the future cost and impact of infection.

A particularly effective intervention, according to the UN, is the prevention of mother-to-child transmission. A short course of anti-retroviral treatment can cut the rate of transmission to children by 20-50%.

As well as the need to strengthen health care systems, the affordability of medicines for opportunistic infections and anti-retroviral therapy ‘€“ one of the greatest barriers to improving access to care ‘€“ must be dealt with.

Some progress in reducing the price of medicines has resulted from the dialogue between the UN system and several research and development based pharmaceutical companies, initiated in May 2000, as well as through the increasing availability of generic versions of antiretroviral drugs.

“Despite these efforts, much more needs to be done if access to care and treatment is not to remain out of reach for the majority of people living with HIV and AIDS,” the report said.

According to the report, continuing inequalities in access to effective care and treatment must be specifically addressed through all possible means, including tiered pricing, competition between suppliers, regional procurement, licensing agreements and the effective use of the health safeguards in trade agreements.

In his report, the Secretary-General also calls for focussed international research and development to produce microbicides and vaccines for HIV/AIDS, and for greatly increased resources to meet the challenges of a growing epidemic.

One of the goals of the Special Session will be to call for a strengthening of financial commitments in the response to AIDS, which remains vastly underfunded.

* By the end of 2000, 36,1 million men, women and children around the world were living with HIV or AIDS and 21,8 million had died from the disease. The same year saw an estimated 5,3 million new infections globally and 3 million deaths, the highest annual total of AIDS deaths ever.

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