8 June 2004
Global Emergency of HIV/AIDS Requires Resolute, Swift, Comprehensive Response, Says Deputy Secretary-General in Remarks to New York Meeting
NEW YORK, 7 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following are Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchettes remarks at a High-Level Global Consultation on linking HIV/AIDS with Sexual and Reproductive Health, in New York, 7 June:
It is a pleasure to be with you today. Above all, I am so glad that you have come together at this critical time in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
I am heartened to see eminent representatives from such a broad spectrum -- ministers, ambassadors and goodwill ambassadors, special envoys and advisers, heads of foundations and non-governmental organizations, leaders of networks of people living with HIV/AIDS, and heads of United Nations agencies.
As you know, we meet at a time when the AIDS crisis is deepening in Africa. When new epidemics are growing rapidly in Asia, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean. When at least 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and an estimated 14,000 new infections occur every day.
The epidemic is taking a terrible toll on humanity, and eroding painstakingly achieved gains in global development.
This is more than a challenge. This is a global emergency. It calls for more than business as usual. It requires a resolute, swift and comprehensive response.
Many laudable efforts are already under way to curb the crisis. But we must not let up in our quest to find innovative solutions. In the absence of a cure, the mass mobilization of every sector of society is our only weapon.
That means we need more good men and women on the front lines of this fight.
And that is where we look to the experience and ingenuity of the sexual and reproductive health community.
We are already more than two decades into the epidemic.
We know that more than 75 per cent of HIV infections are sexually transmitted.
We know that many of the means used to improve sexual and reproductive health can be applied to HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment.
We have an action plan, adopted at the landmark population conference in Cairo 10 years ago. It provides a basis to address reproductive health and rights while linking those to HIV/AIDS issues.
And yet, we have still not tapped into all the opportunities the sexual and reproductive health community offers. That is why we have asked to meet with you here today.
Let me mention just some of the most obvious benefits of combining our efforts to fight HIV/AIDS and promote sexual and reproductive health. I believe there are many:
First, we can get more value for money by pooling our resources. There is no rational reason why there should be separate facilities, separate staff and separate infrastructure to serve the same public in such closely related subject areas.
Second, we can promote the vital sexual and reproductive health agenda by highlighting the life and death urgency of HIV/AIDS. Those normally opposed to reproductive health efforts might be persuaded to overcome their reservations in order to save lives. And as the scaling up of HIV/AIDS treatment becomes a more urgent priority, we will have important opportunities to reach girls and women with reproductive health services.
Third, through reproductive health services, we can provide badly needed entry points for HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment -- especially among those who might otherwise be deterred by fear of stigma. For example, we can integrate HIV voluntary counselling and testing services into services such as family planning and maternal health care.
Fourth, we can learn to operate more effectively and improve access and outreach where no traditional health-care structures and services are available. Over the past few decades, we have learnt a tremendous amount from the sexual and reproductive health community about going beyond the confines of health centres to reach people through community-based family planning services and extensive networks.
And fifth, we can achieve more effective support for girls and women in the fight against HIV infection. This is not just about teaching the use of condoms. It is about helping girls and women achieve greater independence, enabling them to take charge of their sexual lives, to avoid unplanned pregnancies and make responsible decisions.
The more we are able to help girls and women gain life skills and control of their sexual and reproductive lives, the more we can help them gain financial and social empowerment, and the more we can help them protect themselves against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
This is especially crucial at a time when infection rates are showing a terrifying rise among women.
At the beginning, many people thought of AIDS as a disease striking mainly at men. Even a decade ago, statistics indicated that women were less affected.
But all over the world, women are increasingly bearing the brunt of the epidemic.
Women now account for nearly 50 per cent of all adult infections. In sub-Saharan Africa, that figure is around 58 per cent. Among people younger than 24, girls and young women now make up nearly two thirds of those living with HIV.
Why, then, are women more vulnerable to infection -- even though they are usually not the ones with the most sexual partners outside marriage, nor are they more likely than men to be injecting drug users?
Usually, because societys inequalities puts them at risk -- unjust, unconscionable risk. Poverty, abuse and violence, lack of information, coercion by older men, and men having several partners: all these factors contribute to making women more vulnerable.
What is needed is real, positive change that will give more power and confidence to women and girls, and transform relations between women and men at all levels of society.
That includes ensuring that women have full access to prevention options -- including female condoms, and microbicides, once they become available.
And it means working to make men assume their responsibility -- in ensuring an education for their daughters; abstaining from sexual behaviour that puts others at risk; forgoing relations with girls and very young women; and understanding that when it comes to violence against women, there are no grounds for tolerance and no tolerable excuses.
It requires freeing boys and men from some of the cultural stereotypes and expectations that they may be trapped in - such as the belief that men who don't show their wives "who's boss at home" are not real men; or that coming into manhood means having your sexual initiation with a sex worker when you are 13 years old.
All this requires a multisectoral, multidisciplinary approach of the kind that is already used by the sexual and reproductive health community.
It requires a blend of imagination and experience, empathy and sensitivity that is second nature to those dealing with sexual and reproductive health.
And it requires a grass-roots network at community level of the kind that has flourished since the pioneers of that work started their outreach several decades ago.
Fighting HIV/AIDS and improving reproductive health are both Millennium Development Goals in their own right. There is no time to lose if we are to meet by 2015 the targets of halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and reducing by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio.
But given the devastating impact on development wrought by AIDS and maternal deaths, these objectives are also essential to reaching many of the other Millennium Development Goals. And there is no time to lose, no effort to be spared, if we are to translate the MDGs into reality by the target date a mere 11 years from now.
So let us join forces. Let us bring all our creative and collaborative skills to bear on our collective mission. I am grateful to all of you for your engagement, and I wish you a most productive meeting.
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