26 June 2001


NEW YORK, 25 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address of Secretary-General Kofi Annan delivered today in New York to the General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS:

We are here to discuss an unprecedented crisis, but one that has a solution: an unprecedented response from all of us. We are here to agree on the action we will take.

In the 20 years since the world first heard of AIDS, the epidemic has spread to every corner of the world. It has killed almost 22 million people. It has left 13 million children orphaned.

Today, as we have heard from the President, more than 36 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS. Last year alone, more than 5 million people were infected. Every day, another 15,000 people acquire the virus. In some African countries, it has set back development by a decade or more. And now it is spreading with frightening speed in Eastern Europe, in Asia and in the Caribbean.

Up to now, the world's response has not measured up to the challenge. But this year, we have seen a turning point. AIDS can no longer do its deadly work in the dark. The world has started to wake up. We have seen it happen in the media and public opinion -- led by doctors and social workers, by activists and economists, above all by people living with the disease. We have seen it happen among governments. And we have seen it happen in the private sector.

Never, since the nightmare began, has there been such a moment of common purpose. Never have we felt such a need to combine leadership, partnership and solidarity.

Leadership is needed in every country, in every community -- and at the international level, where the entire United Nations system is now engaged. All of us must recognize AIDS as our problem. All of us must make it our priority.

Partnership is needed between governments, private companies, foundations, international organizations -- and, of course, civil society. Non-governmental organizations have been at the forefront of the fight against AIDS from the very start. All of us must learn from their experience, and follow their example. How right it is that they are playing an active part in this session.

Finally, solidarity is needed -- between the healthy and the sick, between rich and poor; above all, between richer and poorer nations. Spending on the battle against AIDS in the developing world needs to rise to roughly five times its present level. The developing countries themselves are ready to provide their share -- as African leaders pledged at the Abuja summit. But they cannot do it alone. Ordinary people in the developed countries are now showing that they understand this. I urge their leaders to act accordingly.

We must mobilize the money required for this exceptional effort -- and we must make sure it is used effectively. That is why I have called for a Global AIDS and Health Fund, open to both governments and private donors, to help us finance the comprehensive, coherent, coordinated strategy we need. Our goal is to make the Fund operational by the end of this year. I will continue to work with all the stakeholders to ensure that we meet that goal. Let me applaud those who have already pledged contributions. I hope others will follow their example, during and after this special session.

When we urge others to change their behaviour, so as to protect themselves against infection, we must be ready to change our own behaviour in the public arena. We cannot deal with AIDS by making moral judgements, or refusing to face unpleasant facts -- and still less by stigmatizing those who are infected, and making out that it is all their fault. We can only do it by speaking clearly and plainly, about the ways that people become infected, and about what they can do to avoid infection.

And let us remember that every person who is infected -- whatever the reason -- is a fellow human being, with human rights and human needs. Let no one imagine that we can protect ourselves by building barriers between us and them. For in the ruthless world of AIDS, there is no us and them.

To do all this, we must change -- if not for our own sake, then for our children's. We must make this session of the General Assembly truly special.

And we must send the world a message of hope, a message of hope.

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