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Press Release

Battling Social Exclusion A Must In Struggle Against AIDS, UNAIDS Says

November 6, 2000

Rio de Janeiro -- The AIDS epidemic is closely linked to inequality, violence and discrimination because "these forces of social exclusion" isolate individuals and rob communities of the power of collective action, said Dr Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), in his opening address to Forum 2000 today.

Dr Piot said that inequality is at least as much a driver of uneven health outcomes as absolute poverty, and that "social injustices and the gap between rich and poor may be more important than just the level of poverty."

He also pointed to the links between stigma and HIV, and said that effective action to control the spread of HIV and to care for HIV-infected people "must be built on a platform of respect and human rights."

Governments and civil society have to work together to redress the social exclusion and stigma that are at the root of the AIDS epidemic in the Latin American and Caribbean region. For example, it is unacceptable that in the region today young men who have sex with men run such a high risk of contracting HIV infection. Strong policies and well-funded programmes need to be put in place to reduce the vulnerability of this population.

He added that it was also unacceptable that drugs should be beyond reach for some people or countries. "We cannot tolerate a world where some regions have access to life-saving treatments and others are excluded, or societies where some classes of the population have comprehensive care but others have no chance of access."

Dr Piot pointed to significant successes achieved by some Latin American and Caribbean countries, particularly Brazil, in broadening access to care and treatment. It was thanks to the strong political commitment and social mobilization on the issue that Brazil has achieved such important progress.

A key theme of the Forum 2000 in Rio is South-South cooperation as an integral part of an effective AIDS response. The meeting is being sponsored by the Horizontal Technical Cooperation Group which is an intergovernmental South-South cooperation mechanism bringing together 19 countries from Latin America and the Caribbean. South-South cooperation is a strategy which recognizes that partners sharing knowledge and experiences and acting together become more powerful and effective. Nowhere is this demonstrated more clearly than in the emerging influence of South-to-South cooperation as a strategy to jointly bring down the prices of AIDS drugs.

Forum 2000 is both a scientific regional conference on HIV/AIDS for Latin America and the Caribbean, and the 2nd Latin American and Caribbean Horizontal Technical Cooperation Conference on HIV/AIDS and STDs. It also includes a number of important satellite events. Its main aim is to encourage discussion and exchanges of experience and knowledge among those directly or indirectly involved in the control and prevention of HIV/AIDS and STDs. Participants include representatives of public and private organizations, civil society institutions, networks, national and international cooperation agencies and academic institutions. Forum 2000 will work to suggest integrated strategic action lines for a global response to HIV/AIDS and STDs.

The AIDS epidemic in Latin America is highly diverse, with both heterosexual and homosexual transmission. Countries with the highest prevalence rates in the region tend to be found in the Caribbean, while Andean countries are among those least affected by HIV infection. A defining feature of the Latin American epidemic is the policy several countries have of providing systematic antiretroviral therapy for people infected with HIV.

In the Caribbean, HIV is affecting the populations of several countries, with some countries experiencing worse epidemics than any other country in the world outside sub-Saharan Africa. In Haiti, it is estimated that over 5% of adults are living with HIV, and in the Bahamas the adult prevalence rate is over 4%.

Already, 18.8 million people around the world have died of AIDS, 3.8 million of them children. Nearly twice that many -- 34.3 million -- are now living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In 1999 alone, 5.4 million people were newly infected with HIV.

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This article was provided by UNAIDS. Visit UNAIDS' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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