8 February 2000



NEW YORK, 7 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s remarks today in New York to a Town Hall meeting organized by African Amicale on the African perspective on the HIV/AIDS epidemic:

Thank you, Djibril, for those kind words. More important, thank you for organizing this Town Hall meeting and bringing together so many of our partners in the fight against AIDS in Africa. For if we are to stand any chance of winning this fight, it is only with partnerships that we can succeed.

Twenty years ago, the global community had not even heard of AIDS. Today, the AIDS pandemic -- unexpected, unexplained, unspeakably cruel -- presents us, especially in Africa, with a tragedy we can barely comprehend, let alone manage.

Let me be clear: AIDS is a worldwide problem. There are many countries outside Africa, especially in Asia and Eastern Europe, where it is spreading at an alarming rate. But nowhere else has AIDS yet reached such emergency proportions, nowhere else has it become such a threat to the very foundations of society as it has in Africa's southern and eastern region.

That region, with less than 5 per cent of the world’s population, is home to more than 50 per cent of those living with HIV. It is where 60 per cent of all AIDS deaths have happened so far. And it is where a whole generation of children is now losing its parents to AIDS. By the end of the twentieth century, the global epidemic had left 11 million orphans -- 90 per cent of them African children.

All this is an unbearable tragedy and burden for millions of individuals and their families. It is also devastating the economies of their countries. It is taking away both breadwinners and those who look after the young, the old, and the infirm. It is destroying the very fabric of society. It is not only taking away Africa's present. It is taking away Africa's future.

The international community has finally begun to acknowledge the extent of the problem of AIDS in Africa. We are beginning to raise awareness and to build helpful and constructive partnerships.

Last month, the Security Council held a meeting on AIDS in Africa -- its first session ever on a health issue -- to discuss the impact on peace and security of what Ambassador Holbrooke, who is here with us this afternoon, called "the number one problem facing Africa today".

The conspiracy of silence is being shattered. Most African governments have now understood that official recognition of the problem is the first step towards dealing with it. They are now speaking out, making a real effort to involve the whole of society in the struggle.

Community groups and NGOs in Africa are doing remarkable work, both to limit the spread of AIDS and to alleviate the suffering it causes.

Private corporations, too, are playing an important role -- providing HIV education, giving protection and support to their employees, and taking a lead within the wider community.

In the medical sector, we have seen the development of an effective and affordable drug in preventing mother-to-child transmission. And recent findings show that even an imperfect AIDS vaccine can reduce the risk of sexual transmission.

These are encouraging developments. But they are not enough. Much, much more needs to be done. Our task now is to replicate and consolidate the advances we have seen so far. To build on them and to put together a coherent and coordinated strategy.

A month ago, here at United Nations Headquarters, we held the first high-level meeting of African governments and United Nations agencies directly involved in the fight against AIDS, along with donor governments, private corporations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Amazingly, it was the first time ever in the fight against AIDS that all these partners had sat down together. I called on them to formulate, by May, a response commensurate with the scale of the crisis; and I spelled out the specific responsibility for each partner in the struggle.

All of you here today are our partners in that struggle. And as I said at the outset, it is only through partnerships that we can hope to win it -- in Africa and anywhere else. I look forward to hearing from every one of you about the part you can play in giving us many more success stories in the war against AIDS.

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