Holbrooke Criticizes United Nations for Not Educating Peacekeepers on HIV Prevention
In his final United Nations address on Friday, departing U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke confronted the U.N. Security Council about the risk of U.N. peacekeepers potentially contracting and spreading HIV in the countries to which they are assigned, the Washington Times reports. Complaining that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has not fulfilled the council's July resolution for improved HIV testing and education of U.N. peacekeepers, and calling the department's AIDS pamphlets "too technical and wordy", Holbrooke said, "Billions [of dollars] are being spent on peacekeeping operations, yet I don't think that even $500,000 has been spent to protect (peacekeepers) from HIV/AIDS. It would be the cruelest of ironies if people who had come to end a war were, in turn, responsible for spreading a deadly disease" (Pisik, Washington Times, 1/20). Holbrooke called for AIDS awareness and budgeting in every peacekeeping mission, saying, "Otherwise ... the U.N. will end up causing more deaths than lives they save." Jean-Marie Guehenno, U.N. under-secretary general for peacekeeping operations, responded, "The reality is that a number of peacekeepers, like any sample of people from around the world, are likely to have been infected by HIV prior to deployment, particularly bearing in mind that some peacekeepers come from countries with high prevalence rates." Saying that "some peacekeepers are sexually active" while deployed, Guehenno added, "National governments do not, as a matter of practice, inform the United Nations that one [or] more of their personnel have contracted HIV/AIDS while on mission." The leaders of the U.N. peacekeeping department and UNAIDS "acknowledged the situation and promised to work together to make peacekeeping troops more aware of the peril of AIDS and more sensitive to the rights of local people left vulnerable by armed conflict," the New York Times reports.
Response to a 'Complex Issue'
In response to Holbrooke's statement, Norway, which tests its soldiers before and after peacekeeping missions, pledged $1.2 million for AIDS prevention, testing and counseling programs for peacekeepers, and Ambassador Arthru Mbafeno of Nigeria called for "a massive information campaign to educate U.N. peacekeepers on the HIV/AIDS pandemic before they are deployed to the field." But Indian Ambassador Kamalesh Sharma responded, "We find objectionable the imputation that peacekeepers are either necessarily at risk or carriers of the disease. ... Not one Indian peacekeeper has either arrived in theater in Africa with HIV/AIDS or left with it." UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot noted, "The role of HIV testing in peacekeeping missions is a complex issue, and nothing raises the emotional temperature of these debates more quickly." He said that he and Guehenno will create an expert panel to determine a formal position on testing (Wren, New York Times, 1/20). All U.S. troops are routinely tested for HIV, and those who test positive are not sent overseas, but most of the 31,000 U.N. peacekeeping soldiers are from nations that do not require or even offer tests. Holbrooke told the Security Council that recently confirmed Secretary of State Colin Powell "shares his views and plans to continue U.S. pressure for full implementation" of the U.N. resolution on controlling AIDS (Garrett, Newsday, 1/20).
Fighting Resolve Increased as Epidemic 'Surged'
In addition to discussing peacekeeping missions, Piot also noted that although there was a "remarkable increase in global resolve to tackle HIV/AIDS [in] 2000," the epidemic "equally surged" in the last year, the Panafrican News Agency/allAfrica.com reports. Piot expressed "concern" that efforts have been "slow in creating the mechanisms to ensure that poor developing countries who are most affected by [HIV] have access to affordable drugs." French ambassador Jean-David Levitte called the lack of treatment in the developing world "unacceptable." Piot said that three million people died of AIDS-related complications this past year, the highest mortality rate recorded in one year since the beginning of the epidemic. Sub-Saharan Africa was the "worst affected region," but HIV made "great inroads" in Central America, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and Russia, where more new HIV infections were recorded in 2000 than in "all previous years combined." New infections in the developed world remained steady as the decline of AIDS mortality in these nations "level[ed] off" (Panafrican News Agency/allAfrica.com, 1/19).