8 February 2000




NEW YORK, 7 February (UN Headquarters) – Following is the statement of Theo-Ben Gurirab, President of the General Assembly, today in New York at a Town Hall meeting organized by African Amicale on "African Perspectives on the HIV/AIDS Epidemic as a Security Threat, Development Crisis and Humanitarian Emergency":

Thank you very much for the invitation to participate in this Town Hall meeting organized by African Amicale. Our common search of solutions to the HIV/AIDS pandemic seems of late to be enjoying active attention at the United Nations, and beyond.

It is true that the HIV/AIDS pandemic is not exclusively an African problem. But its prolonged and devastating impact in sub-Saharan African is the greatest and spreading rapidly by the day. Only last year, this dreaded disease killed 2 million victims and also orphaned 10 million African children. And it will continue its debilitating havoc, if there is no meaningful help soon. The world’s response in terms of declaring a total war against this human crisis, by providing the resources needed to fight it, by containing its spread and by mitigating its effects is far from adequate.

Last month, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) joined the Security Council to dramatize, with examples and statistics, the reality that the total sum needed annually for AIDS prevention in Africa is in the order of $1 billion to $3 billion. Yet, at present, Africa is receiving only $160 million a year in official assistance from the world community to fight HIV/AIDS.

This to me says a lot, because AIDS is far from being only a public health problem. It has become a development crisis of major proportions, particularly so in Africa. AIDS attacks and kills people in the prime of their working and parenting lives, thereby destroying a large part of the workforce. It weakens the social fabric of the society and impoverishes the family. We must, therefore, elevate the dialogue on HIV/AIDS from mere talking to the level of human rights and human survival. Actions speak louder than words.

I see today new initiatives taking place in this country, and the United States Administration is a part of it. During the memorable American presidency of the Security Council, during January 2000, Vice-President Al Gore strongly emphasized this aspect as well. While the encouraging drumming by the world’s medical science is sweet music to our ears, any major breakthrough in finding the cure for AIDS, in the foreseeable future, would seem to be far off.

In the meantime, some members of United States Congress and other prominent American public figures are working together to change the public’s mindset and promote action in the field of AIDS prevention and treatment

To this end, former Congressman Ron Dellums, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Danny Glover, Andrew Young, Jack Kemp, David Dinkins and others are campaigning for legislation to establish a Marshall Plan for Africa, under the aegis of the Ron Dellums-led Constituency for Africa in the USA,

Dellums says: "AIDS has the capacity to create unity and cooperation", I totally agree with him and fully endorse this noble effort. I hope and pray that its seed will germinate in other parts of the world.

We must all aim for an international groundswell on this critical issue similar to the grand coalition which has brought together the United Nations, the civil rights movement in the United States, the worldwide anti-apartheid campaign and the national liberation movements for a united action for freedom and liberation in southern Africa in the 1960s and the 1980s. That struggle was won because of commitment, solidarity and coordination of efforts. We are also going to conquer this enemy if we do the same in this struggle.

Once again, with regard to the orphans, what is required are workable measures with multiplier effects, including education, a conducive environment for their emotional development and safety. These orphans are helpless and homeless children and youth who are in need of immediate global rescue operation on a sustainable basis.

Every little step counts. We must make use of every opportunity, resources and tools, not excluding the Internet, to create awareness about the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its plundering weight upon the African society. The corporate sector, especially the pharmaceutical companies, must be conscientized to accept their social and moral responsibility and obligation to find a cure for this disease and to ensure that everyone has access to the best drugs available.

Financial institutions must also be mobilized to support research and other activities aimed at stopping the spread of the disease, mitigating its effects and finding a cure. All of us have a role to play.

To conclude, the United Nations Security Council, during its "Month of Africa", through its President, Ambassador Holbrooke, recommended, in writing, for the General Assembly "to review the problem of HIV/AIDS in all its aspects and to consider proposing new strategies, methods, practical activities and specific measures to strengthen international cooperation in addressing this problem":

I have already taken action on this serious and timely suggestion. Now, let us turn away from this time and place to act.

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