|HIV/AIDS: An Urgent International
Concern, Not Just a Health Problem
AIDS is no longer a health issue. It is a global problem of immediate
international concern. Now, an unprecedented General Assembly
Special Session and an effective Awareness campaign led by the
Secretary General place the United Nations firmly in the vanguard
of those confronting one of the world's greatest crises. About
25 million people have died from AIDS, and millions more will
follow if effective global action is not immediately taken.
In opening remarks, Kofi Annan highlighted the gravity of the
issue and urged world governments and civic groups to take action.
This marked the first time a Secretary General personally campaigned
for an issue usually left to a specialized group like the World
Health Organization. For over a year, Annan has lobbied governments,
private industry, and civic groups to deal with it. A special
$10 billion fund was designated, and targets were set. One billion
dollars have already been raised, even though the special session
was not a pledging conference.
In preparing for the Special Session, UN Secretariat staff once
more rose to the occasion. While the Secretary General led the
awareness campaign, Deputy Secretary General Louise Frechette
headed an active interdepartmental session to ensure appropriate
work. An emblem of solidarity was lit over the glass house on
First Avenue for New Yorkers to see, just as delegates were arriving
for their credentials.
A plan of action was drawn with the help of UN-sponsored agencies.
This was largely supervised by two outstanding ambassadors: Ibra
Ka of Senegal and Penelope Wensley of Australia. There were arguments
about the final declaration: some advocated mitigating the language
to obtain a consensus, while others pointed out that vague language
will erode the main purpose of the session.
Some countries still maintain that they harbor no trace of the
virus, no homosexual activity, and therefore do not need to produce
One cautionary note: avoid raising expectations vis a vis the
UN itself with regard to the AIDS question. While the political
and communications leadership is in full swing, some programs
are still searching for their role-and wavering in their full
commitment. Some are even playing politics, so there is a risk
that the slowest boat may pull down the rest. But overall, the
UN has demonstrated a presence in this most pressing issue. It
has provided the correct forum and leadership. Now it is up to
governments, civic groups and the private sector to do their part.