Background Release

22 June 2001

25-27 JUNE

NEW YORK, 21 June (UN Headquarters) -- In order to address the problem of human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) and secure a global commitment to combat the epidemic, the General Assembly will meet in special session from 25 to 27 June.

In last year’s Millennium Declaration (General Assembly resolution 55/2), the world’s leaders committed themselves to halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015. The Assembly, in its resolution 55/13, decided to convene the special session, including four interactive roundtables, in which HIV/AIDS in Africa will be a cross-cutting theme. The overall themes will include HIV/AIDS prevention and care; HIV/AIDS and human rights; the social and economic impact of the epidemic and strengthening national capacities to combat the disease; and international funding and cooperation to address the epidemic’s challenges.

During the special session, the Assembly will meet in plenary three times a day: from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.; and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

(A calendar of side-events and other information is provided on

Report of the Secretary-General

The special session will consider, among other things, the report of the Secretary-General on HIV/AIDS (document A/55/779, 16 February), which states that in the two decades since it has been with us, the AIDS epidemic has continued its relentless spread across continents, sparing no country: a truly global emergency.

The report examines the spread of the epidemic and reviews its impacts —- demographic, social, economic and from the standpoint of the security of people and nations. It approaches the epidemic from all levels, recognizing that although a global problem requires a global response, the mobilization of people and communities is also essential. It is at the household and community level, supported by civil society groupings, that open dialogue about norms, values, gender issues, health and sexuality takes place.

Some key lessons learned since the start of the epidemic are: that a greater epidemic can be prevented in the future; that capacity and commitment have increased; that prevention works; that intensified efforts are needed to procure widespread and affordable access to care and treatment; that successful responses have their roots in communities; that empowering young people and women is essential; and that people living with HIV or AIDS are central to response. The epidemic must be tackled on several fronts —- by addressing risks associated with behaviours and situations, vulnerability to the risk of infection, and impact on the lives of individuals and their communities.

The response to the epidemic is assessed through the triple lens of leadership, coordination and the need for adequate resources. Leadership -— at the global as well as the country level —- is the single most important factor in reversing the epidemic.

One of the most important leadership challenges is to ensure that the full power and authority of the State is brought to bear on the epidemic, securing the mobilization of all sectors and levels of government, a decentralized implementation of interventions, solid partnerships with non-governmental actors, adequate funding from national budgets, and appropriate resource allocations across sectors and down to the district/municipal levels.

Improved coordination across all sectors of social and economic planning between governments, among government and non-governmental partners, and among international and national civil society is a second factor in the success against HIV/AIDS. By encouraging the collective approaches and problem-solving that are crucial to a cross-cutting issue like AIDS, coordination can help focus energy and resources on specific goals in order to avoid duplication and enhance cost-effectiveness.

A third critical factor is the need for adequate resources. Worldwide, financial resources allocated to HIV/AIDS, particularly in the most affected regions, are only a fraction given the magnitude of the epidemic. For example, a well-resourced response for prevention and basic care programmes in Africa alone would require at least $3 billion a year, not including anti-retroviral therapy. Yet only a fraction of this amount is available despite growing evidence of political will and commitment.

Considerable success has been achieved in addressing the epidemic in many parts of the world. Declining HIV infection rates in many communities and in some cases across nations, especially among young people, have proven that prevention strategies work. Declining death rates from AIDS in industrialized countries and some developing countries have also demonstrated recent benefits of HIV treatment and effectiveness of care.

Meeting the challenge of HIV/AIDS requires a combination of approaches: strengthening leadership, alleviating the social and economic impacts of the epidemic, reducing vulnerability, intensifying prevention, increasing care and support, providing international public goods and increasing resources.

Recent Speeches on HIV/AIDS by Secretary-General

At the African summit in Abuja, Nigeria, on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and other Related Infectious Diseases the Secretary-General, in his speech of 26 April, underlined five objectives: prevention; prevention of mother-to-child infection; care and treatment for everyone; research; and protecting the most vulnerable.

He proposed the creation of a Global Fund, dedicated to the battle against HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. "Somehow, we have to bring about a quantum leap in the scale of resources available", he said, noting that an additional $7 to $10 billion a year for the struggle against HIV/AIDS was needed over an extended period of time. It was little more than one per cent of the world’s annual military spending, he said.

In remarks to the United States Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. on 1 June he said business leaders need to get involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS in order to protect their bottom line as the spread of the pandemic had causes costs to expand and markets to shrink.

As AIDS created more poverty and deepened inequalities, it fuelled the growing public backlash against globalization. Business, which had profited most from globalization, would come under more and more public pressure to provide leadership. The first line of action was in the workplace, he said. As anti-retrovirals became more widely affordable, it was now more profitable for companies to treat their HIV-positive employees than to recruit and retrain new ones. Recent studies in Africa showed that treating HIV-positive workers paid for itself up to 10 times over.

He said businesses could also contribute to the fight against AIDS as advocates for change, using skills and assets in marketing and communications.

Draft Declaration

During its last meeting, the special session is expected to adopt a Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, entitled "Global Crisis –- Global Action".

Deeply concerned that the global HIV/AIDS epidemic constitutes one of the most formidable challenges to human development and security, and concerned that its continuing spread will constitute a serious obstacle to the realization of the global development goals adopted at the Millennium Summit, the special session of the Assembly would declare its commitment to address the HIV/AIDS crisis by taking action in the areas of: leadership; prevention; care, support and treatment; reducing vulnerability; children orphaned by HIV/AIDS; alleviating social and economic impact; research and development; HIV/AIDS in conflict-affected regions; resources; and follow-up.

Strong leadership at all levels of society, according to the draft declaration, is essential for an effective response to the epidemic, and leadership by governments needs to be complemented by leadership from civil society and the private sector. At the national level, the development and implementation of multi-sectoral national strategies and financing plans for combating AIDS must be ensured by 2003. Those strategies and plans must, among other things, confront stigma, silence and denial, must be resourced to the extent possible from national budgets, and must fully protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedom for all.

Regional organizations and partners must be encouraged to develop regional strategies and responses in support of expanded country-level efforts. At the global level, there is a need to support greater action and coordination in the United Nations system. By 2003, mechanisms should be established and strengthened that involve the private sector and civil society partners in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Prevention must be the mainstay of the response, the declaration continues. It sets concrete goals, including: to establish by 2003 time-bound national targets to achieve the internationally agreed global prevention goal of reducing HIV prevalence among young men and women aged 15-24 in the most affected countries by 25 per cent by the year 2005, and to intensify efforts to challenge gender stereotypes in relation to the disease, encouraging the active involvement of men and boys. By 2005, the number of infants infected by HIV should be reduced by 20 per cent, (and by 50 per cent in 2010) by increasing the availability of and by providing access for HIV-infected women to effective treatment to reduce mother-to-child transmission.

Care, support and treatment are fundamental elements of an effective response, the Draft Declaration states. It sets time-bound concrete goals, such as ensuring that by 2003, national strategies are developed in close collaboration with the international community, civil society and the business sector to increase substantially the availability of anti-retroviral drugs and of essential drugs for the treatment of HIV infection and opportunistic infections.

Respect for human rights reduces vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, and respect for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS drives an effective response, according to the draft declaration. By 2005, national legislation should be in place to promote, protect and respect the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS to information, quality care, support, confidentiality and privacy. Also by 2005, measures should be implemented to increase capacities of women and young girls to protect themselves from risk of infection, principally through gender-sensitive prevention education and the provision of reproductive health services.

The vulnerable must be given priority by, among other things, having in place in all countries by 2003 programmes that identify and begin to address those factors that make individuals or groups particularly vulnerable to HIV infection. Such factors include poverty, lack of education, migration, social exclusion, illiteracy, discrimination, and lack of information or commodities for self-protection.

Children orphaned and affected by HIV/AIDS need special assistance. By 2005, national policies and strategies should be developed to build family and community capacities to provide for orphans and vulnerable children, and to ensure that orphans and children in families affected by HIV/AIDS are enrolled in school and have access to health and social services on an equal basis with other children. There should be direct special assistance to sub-Saharan Africa to support programmes for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

Setting concrete goals for 2003 in alleviating the social and economic impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the draft declaration states that to address HIV/AIDS is to invest in productivity and economic growth. The HIV/AIDS challenge cannot be met without new and additional resources. In the draft declaration, the special session would call on the developed countries that have not yet done so to achieve as soon as possible the agreed target of 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Product (GNP) for overall development assistance (ODA) and speedy and effective implementation of the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPC).

The special session would support the establishment of a special fund to finance an urgent and expanded response to the epidemic and to assist governments with implementation of the commitments contained in the declaration. Contributions to the fund should be mobilized from public and private sources, with a special appeal to foundations, the business community, the private sector, philanthropists and wealthy individuals.

After recommendations for follow-up at the national, regional and global level to maintain momentum and monitor progress, the special session would call on all countries to take the necessary steps to implement the declaration, in strengthened partnership and cooperation with other multilateral and bilateral partners and with civil society.

* *** *