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Leadership crucial to effective action against HIV/AIDS, UN special session told

The magnitude of the global AIDS effort requires vigorous leadership and significantly more resources than are currently allocated, world leaders, United Nations officials, activists and others said this week at a U.N. General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS.During the three-day special session in New York, which was intended to initiate a greatly accelerated response to the epidemic, government leaders adopted a Declaration of Commitment that sets out priorities for action and goals to be met in the next several years. A key focus of the Declaration is the need for more concerted leadership to mobilize action and resources.

The burden will be on the international community to do everything possible to support developing countries in their implementation, UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown said in his statement to the gathering. Stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS, he said, requires initiatives ranging from public awareness campaigns and sex education in schools to programs in the workplace, mobilization of religious and community leaders and support for orphans.

In Bhutan, HIV/AIDS has emerged strongly in recent months as a health threat with the sharp increase in officially reported cases, which now stand at 22. Based on international statistics, however, it is believed that the number of Bhutanese infected with HIV is in the hundreds.

Worldwide, more than 36 million people are estimated to be living with HIV or AIDS. Already, nearly 22 million people have died of AIDS, 4.3 million of them children. In the worlds worst affected countries, 1 in 4 adults are infected, with disproportionate numbers of sufferers young women and girls.

Worldwide spending on HIV/AIDS in less than US$2 billion a year, the UNDP Administrator said, although the estimate for an adequate global response in low- to middle-income countries is $7 billion to $10 billion annually.

Leaders at every level around the world have been at the forefront of the successes achieved in fighting the disease, a new report issued by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said.

Successes have hinged on the perseverance of visionary and courageous people, said the report, entitled Together We Can. Some of these people, it noted, are high-powered political and religious leaders and international icons. Others, less visible, have been no less effective in their actions as workers, students, business people, entertainers, politicians, community activists and village leaders.

Said UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot: Responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic have shown humanity at both its worst and its best. Denial, blind panic and victim blaming have been among the worst responses. But gradually, courage, creativity and care have come to the fore. This collective humanitarian effort means the world now knows what it will take to turn the epidemic around.

Many political leaders have created legislative and policy environments that make it possible to sharpen and widen responses, such as workplace programs to protect workers against HIV infection, the UNAIDS report said.

Economic insecurity, displacement caused by conflicts and disasters, illiteracy, violence and abuse, and exclusion from information deprive million of the ability to protect themselves and others, the report noted. It has become evident that more decisive steps are needed to reduce peoples vulnerability.

Contributed by KES Kirby

Minister calls for crusade against HIV/AIDS

The Health and Education Minister, Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup, commended the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi
Annan, for his role in taking the UN to the forefront of the battle against HIV/AIDS.

In his statement to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS in New York on Wednesday, the minister reminded the gathering of UN officials and world leaders that the HIV/AIDS pandemic had become one of the main obstacles to development and stressed the need to do some sincere probing on the issue.

Presenting the status of HIV/AIDS in Bhutan, the minister informed the General Assembly about the National STD/AIDS programme and its successful outcome, and pledged the full support of Bhutan in the creation of a Global Fund on AIDS and Health.

The fund, he said, should be realized through the integrated primary health care approach system and called upon all nations to show their political commitment in the crusade against AIDS. It is only through the strength of global unity that we can help those suffering from AIDS, support entire societies which are being devastated, and safeguard the future of human race, Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup said.

However, he cautioned the General Assembly against concentrating only on the most severely affected areas and neglecting those trying hard to stem the disease. He stated that as a global problem, equal priority must be given to all countries.

Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup concluded his statement by calling for a close partnership of the UN family governments, civil society, and individuals in uniting against this common enemy.

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