June 21, 2001
-- The magnitude of the AIDS effort requires vigorous leadership and additional resources, according to a report released today by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
The report, entitled "Together We Can," notes that leadership is fundamental to effective action against HIV/AIDS and that leaders at every level have been at the forefront of the many successes achieved in fighting the epidemic. (Click here to download the PDF of the report. To read, download Adobe Acrobat.) "The successes have hinged on the perseverance of visionary and courageous people," the report says. "Some are high-powered political and religious leaders and international icons. Others, less visible, have been no less effective in their actions as workers, students, business people, entertainers, politicians, community activists, and village leaders."
Speaking at the launch of the report in advance of the opening of the United Nations General Assembly on HIV/AIDS, being held in New York from 25-27 June, the Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Peter Piot, said, "Responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic have shown humanity at both its worst and its best. Denial, blind panic, and victim-blaming have been among the worst responses. But gradually courage, creativity and care have come to the fore. This collective humanitarian effort means the world now knows what it will take to turn the epidemic around."
The report highlights advances in the response to the epidemic and gives concrete examples of the successes achieved in the 20 years since the first clinical description of AIDS was made. It singles out leadership as one of the critical factors in mobilizing action and resources to fight HIV/AIDS.
The report says that while too many people still seek shelter in silence, the corrosive effects of secrecy and denial can be offset by the determination and courage of those who speak out. Communities are becoming more aware of what works best for them, and activists and responsive leaders everywhere are alerting institutions and businesses to the threats of the epidemic. Many political leaders have created legislative and policy environments that make it possible to sharpen and widen responses, such as workplace programs to protect workers against HIV infection. Plans by the heavily indebted poor countries initiative to trim developing countries' debts are also a step forward, but remain a far cry from the level of resources needed.
The report makes the point that while leadership from the "top" has been forthcoming, especially in some of the worst affected regions, commitment must be measured by action on a wide range of fronts. Prevention, care, and support efforts reinforce one another and must occur together.
"Economic insecurity, displacement caused by conflicts and disasters, illiteracy, violence and abuse, and exclusion from information deprive millions of the ability to protect themselves and others," the report notes. "It has become evident that more decisive steps are needed to reduce people's vulnerability."
While notable successes and the lessons to be learned from them are the launching pad for an extraordinary global response to curb AIDS, the scale of the emergency tends to eclipse the successes. The report highlights the lack of resources available to fight the epidemic and says only a combination of resources and leadership will fuel the extraordinary response that is needed.
Worldwide, 36.1 million people are now estimated to be living with HIV or AIDS. Already, 21.8 million people around the world have died of AIDS, 4.3 million of them children. In 2000 alone, 5.3 million people were infected with HIV.
The report sets the tone for the start of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS which brings together world leaders, activists, service, and community organizations and the private sector in an effort to mobilize a greatly accelerated global response to the epidemic. Government leaders are expected to adopt a Declaration of Commitment at the Session which sets out key targets and goals to be met over the next few years. A key focus of this Declaration will be the need for more concerted leadership.
For more information, please contact Anne Winter, UNAIDS, New York, (+41 79) 213 4312, Dominique de Santis, UNAIDS, Geneva, (+41 22) 791 4509 or Andrew Shih, UNAIDS, New York, (+ 1 212) 584 5024. You may also visit the UNAIDS Home Page on the Internet for more information about the program (http://www.unaids.org).