Annan, Piot Call for Leadership in Fight Against AIDS at World Health Assembly; Potential Donor Countries Raise Concerns About Global Fund
Speaking yesterday before the World Health Organization's 191 member states convened in Geneva this week for the annual World Health Assembly, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that in order to encourage progress in developing countries, the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases must be stemmed. "[T]he devastation wrought by HIV/AIDS is now so acute that it has itself become one of the main obstacles to development," he said. Emphasizing the need for global action against the disease, he added, "AIDS has become the primary cause of death in Africa. But let no one imagine it is only an African problem." To combat HIV/AIDS, Annan called for "leadership at every level, from the family through local communities to national governments and international institutions," adding that the "United Nations can achieve little by itself. Our leadership is only useful to the extent that others respond to our call." He indicated that plans for the Global AIDS Fund he created last month are progressing, stating that it should be run by an independent board composed of donor and developing nations, non-governmental organizations, private firms and the United Nations. "The broad policies would be set by the board, which would use [donor] money to support national programs and strategies, decided by national leaders. But it would insist on transparency and accountability, so that we can be sure the money is being spent in ways that are effective, and is reaching the people who need it most." Annan concluded, "Let us rise above the turf battles and doctrinal disputes. The battle against HIV/AIDS is too important for us to risk side-tracking it by championing one institution or project at the expense of others" (Annan speech text, 5/17). UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot followed Annan's speech at the meeting, saying, "[W]e now do have a clear agenda. ... It is an ambitious agenda, which also captures the complexity of the response, based on experience and solid evidence. ... [W]e have to embark on emergency type action, while at the same time building capacity for the long term. Defeating AIDS requires sustained behavior change, from every individual, every institution and within every relationship" (Piot speech text, 5/17).
Least Developed Countries Must Also Be Aware
Piot also spoke at the U.N. Conference on the Least Developed Countries in Brussels on Wednesday, warning LDCs that although the incidence of HIV/AIDS may be low in their regions, this is "not an excuse for inaction," as the epidemic is only beginning to spread. Piot pointed out that women and children are at particular risk for HIV in LDCs, and that the impacts of the virus across all of society are "becoming apparent." He called on these nations to invest early in preventing the spread of disease, saying that the countries with the lowest infection rates are "facing the greatest opportunities for action against HIV, at the lowest cost. ... It is the reason to invest wisely in prevention" (UNAIDS release, 5/16).
Despite calls from Annan and Piot for leadership in fighting HIV/AIDS, developed nations at the conference on poverty "remained skeptical" about donating money to the U.N. global fund, saying that there were "not enough guarantees" that the money would be used "correctly," the Associated Press reports. "What will this fund do better than what we are doing now?" European Union Development Commissioner Poul Nielson asked, adding, "If we are just talking about a global AIDS fund, we will not participate. It is too narrow." Although an agreement on the establishment of and donations to the fund was expected at the conference, several "wealthy" nations asked the United Nations to "go back to the drawing board to redraw its proposal." The European Union, one of the dissenting delegations, asked that the fund include other diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria and include provisions for providing cheap drugs in developing countries. The United States became the first "large donor" to the fund last Friday, when President Bush pledged $200 million (Brand, Associated Press, 5/16).