UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called on world leaders to strengthen their fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic sweeping the globe. Mr Annan, speaking at 15th International AIDS Conference, said “overall countries are simply not doing nearly well enough”.
This comes after a UNAIDS warning last week that the number of people living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has risen in every region of the world and last year 5 million people became newly infected with HIV - more people than any previous.
Mr Annan went on to say, “We need leaders everywhere to demonstrate that speaking up about AIDS is a point of pride, not a source of shame, there must be no more sticking heads in the sand, no more embarrassment, no more hiding behind a veil of apathy.”
Addressing the audience, which included Ministers of Health from many nations, Mr. Annan said their leadership should translate into adequate resources from national budgets, and must mobilize the entire state apparatus and generate partnerships with every sector of society and people living with HIV/AIDS.
“But leadership comes not only from those who hold position of power,” the Secretary-General stressed. “Leadership comes from partners who make sure they always use a condom. Leadership comes from fathers, husbands, sons and uncles who support and affirm the rights of women. Leadership comes from teachers who nurture the dreams and aspirations of girls.”
He added that leadership also meant daring to do things differently, because AIDS was a different kind of disease, which stood alone in human experience and called for a united stand against it.
Among other key priorities, Mr. Annan pointed to the need to scale up infrastructure to support both treatment and prevention. He noted that successful programmes have shown that interventions must reach whole societies and must be developed within a country, rather than be imposed from outside.
No less pressing is the need to empower women and girls to protect themselves against the virus, Mr. Annan said, adding that the factors making women more vulnerable include poverty, abuse and violence, coercion by older men, lack of information “and men having several concurrent sexual relationships that entrap young women in a giant network of infection.”
He emphasized that these factors could not be addressed piecemeal, and that the change needed would have to transform relations between women and men at all levels of society, including giving everyone the understanding that educating girls was a necessity, not merely an option.