3 December 2001


NEW YORK, 30 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the keynote address delivered by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize luncheon in New York on 30 November:

It is indeed an honour to be here.

Let me first of all congratulate Dame Cicely Saunders and St. Christopher's Hospice on receiving this year's Conrad Hilton Humanitarian Prize. Above all, let me pay tribute to you, Dame Cicely, for your gift to humankind in creating the world hospice movement; for giving countless sick and dying people all over the world relief from needless suffering and pain, and access to compassionate and skilled care.

As you have said, Dame Cicely, this prize will enable you to train yet more hospice staff worldwide, at a time when they are desperately needed; when the AIDS pandemic and other infectious diseases have made the need for good hospice care more acute than ever.

Surely, ladies and gentlemen, Dame Cicely is the living embodiment of what Conrad Hilton called "the natural law that obliges you and me to relieve the suffering, the distressed and the destitute". By extension, this award is also a tribute to all humanitarian workers worldwide who work tirelessly and selflessly under the same natural law.

It is also yet another example of the admirable approach of the Conrad Hilton Foundation. Mr. Hilton, your Foundation's emphasis on global as well as domestic causes, on health as well as development, testifies eloquently to your understanding of our interdependent world, and the link between health and social justice.

You have understood that the biggest enemy of health in the developing world is poverty, and that the struggle for health is part and parcel of the struggle for development. You know that we shall not finally defeat the infectious diseases that plague the developing world until we have also won the battle for basic health care, sanitation and safe drinking water -- an area where your Foundation has been particularly active.

Improved access to safe drinking water is also one of the goals of the United Nations Millennium Declaration -- the landmark document for the 21st century adopted by the world’s leaders at the Millennium Summit last year as a blueprint for achieving freedom from want, freedom from fear and protection of the environment. Allow me to welcome the work of the Hilton Foundation as a partner in its implementation.

As the Millennium Declaration recognizes, disease and ill health are so widespread in many parts of the developing world that they in themselves form one of the biggest barriers to development. We must fight on both fronts -- for freedom from disease and for freedom from want -- or we shall not win on either.

This applies most particularly -- as no one knows better than Dame Cicely -- to HIV/AIDS.

I had originally been scheduled to give this address on 17 September, but for tragic reasons we know all too well, the event was postponed until today. Yet if there is one reason why I am glad we are meeting today instead, it is that the event coincides with the observance of World AIDS Day.

The world after 11 September has made all of us think more deeply about the kind of world we want our children to live in. In the new and uncertain environment into which we have been propelled, we feel, more deeply than ever, the need to hold fast to a vision of peace and security, but also to one of human security. That means redoubling our efforts to turn back the AIDS epidemic.

New figures, released only two days ago, show that the AIDS epidemic has infected more than 40 million people today. Every day, more than 8,000 people die of it. Every hour, almost 600 people become infected. Every minute, a child dies of the virus.

This is not only an unparalleled tragedy in human terms. It is a major obstacle to development.

AIDS is unique in the social and demographic devastation it inflicts. It is uniquely disruptive to economies, because it kills people in the prime of their lives. It kills the better educated and the most productive members of society. The loss of each breadwinner's income reduces the access of his or her dependants to health care, education and nutrition -- leaving them in turn more vulnerable to infection. This cycle need be repeated only a few times and AIDS destroys an entire community.

Equally threatening to communities is the toll that AIDS takes on women, and thereby on families. In the world as a whole, about half of all new infections are among women. In sub-Saharan Africa, 55 per cent of HIV-positive adults are women -- and the proportion among young people is even higher. There are many reasons, ranging from poverty, abuse and violence, to lack of information and higher biological risk of infection in women.

As AIDS forces girls to drop out of school -- whether they fall sick themselves, or are forced to take care of an infected relative -- they fall deeper into poverty. Their own children in turn are less likely to attend school -- and more likely to become infected.

In this and other ways, AIDS inflicts an intolerable burden on children. AIDS has already killed more than 4 million children. More than 13 million have been orphaned. And the new statistics show that the number of infants infected annually has risen to more than 700,000.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, AIDS is indeed a terrible obstacle to development. And for far too long, the world's response was nowhere near commensurate with the challenge. But now, at last, for much of the international community, the magnitude of the crisis is finally beginning to sink in.

Never before, in the two decades that we have faced this growing catastrophe, has there been such a sense of common resolve and collective responsibility. People are grasping the seriousness of the crisis, but they are also realizing that we are not powerless against this disease. There is hope -- and there is reason for hope.

In recent months, we have heard new voices raised every day.

-- We have heard them in the media and public opinion -- led by doctors and social workers, by activists and economists, by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and by people living with the disease themselves.

-- We have seen change in the private sector, as pharmaceutical companies have made their AIDS drugs more affordable in poor countries, and as more corporations have created programmes to provide both prevention and treatment for employees and the wider community.

-- We have seen a new effort among foundations, who are making increasingly imaginative and generous contributions, both financial and intellectual -- in prevention, in reducing mother-to-child transmission, in the search for a vaccine.

-- We have seen effective prevention campaigns launched in more and more countries, taking into account the local cultural context.

-- We have seen a growing recognition, among both donors and the most affected countries, of the inextricable link between prevention and treatment.

-- We have seen a new understanding of the particular toll that AIDS is taking on women, and of the need to enable them to protect themselves from infection, through scientific breakthroughs such as microbicides. We have also seen growing recognition of the key role women play throughout in society in fighting the disease.

-- We have seen the entire United Nations family come together on the front lines of this fight under a common strategic plan.

-- Perhaps most important of all, we have seen a new sense of awareness and commitment take hold among Governments -– most notably in Africa -- as more and more leaders are speaking out about AIDS in their own countries, understanding that silence is death.

-- Indeed, we have seen a change of heart in the entire membership of the United Nations, which met last June in a Special Session of the General Assembly to devise a comprehensive and coordinated global response to the AIDS crisis. They adopted a powerful declaration of commitment, calling for a fundamental shift in our response to HIV/ AIDS -- a response to AIDS as a global economic, social and development challenge of the highest priority which must be addressed on all those fronts.

As we have recently been reminded in the news, ladies and gentlemen, it was only through unprecedented coordination and mobilization of common purpose in the second half of the last century that the world was able to eradicate another deadly scourge -- smallpox. And thanks to the same kind of collective resolve, involving public-private partnerships worldwide, we are now on the verge of eliminating polio -- once the world's leading cause of permanent disability.

It is only through a similar collective resolve that we will win the war against AIDS. Our challenge is to build on the momentum that has been created so far.

Money will be needed to do that, on far greater scale than we have seen so far. And we are seeing the new resolve take hold in the wide response to the proposal for a global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. It was only last April that I suggested this new international facility; just seven months later, pledges to the Fund stand at more than 1.5 billion dollars. It’s not enough. We need seven to 10 billion dollars a year to tackle this disease. But it is a good start. We need more.

The Fund will not only be an important channel of resources; it will also serve as a beacon of hope. But it cannot be the only source of funds for a full-scale global response to AIDS.

We estimate that an effective response to AIDS in low- and middle-income countries requires, as I have stated earlier, seven to 10 billion dollars each year. Clearly, funds will need to be boosted through changes in national priorities. Many governments have indicated they are going to increase their national health budgets. And of course, we can also do more by further debt relief to these countries that are spending more in debt repayments, as well as contributions through civil society and the private sector.

As I have tried to outline for you today, it is clear that we now have the roadmap, the tools and the knowledge to fight AIDS. What we must sustain now is the political will. That is where we look to help from people like you here today. As opinion-makers, many of you can use your bully pulpit to help refocus attention and keep up the momentum that has been achieved. As private donors, some of you may be able to provide funds. And as experts and practitioners in your respective fields, many of you -- perhaps all of you -- have the authority to contribute actively to policy discussions and decisions.

You can all add your voice to the collective resolve that will help us defeat AIDS -- this crisis in global health and this crippling obstacle to development. And if we all work together and pool our efforts, I think we can win this war on all fronts.

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