ADDRESS BY MR. BRIAN COWEN, T.D., MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF IRELAND, TO THE UNGA HIGH LEVEL MEETING ON HIV/AIDS
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The 58th UN General Assembly opens at a time when we will be responding to the Secretary General's call for a reflection on the future role of the United Nations. In looking back at a successful UN global meeting, which dealt with an issue of direct relevance to millions of people, we remind ourselves of the importance of multilateralism in the age of globalisation.
I intend to use Ireland's Presidency of the EU, in the first half of 2004, to drive forward the fight against HIV/AIDS. We will prioritise work on HIV/AIDS in the development agenda of our EU Presidency.
On 23 and 24 February 2004, the Irish EU Presidency will convene a Ministerial meeting in Dublin to review cooperation against HIV/AIDS in Europe and Central Asia. The objective of this major regional meeting will be to foster a new sense of pan continental cooperation against HIV/AIDS. For the first time 53 Ministers from across the continent will meet together to cooperate against this common threat.
UNAIDS and UNICEF have agreed to work with us in the preparation of the Dublin conference, which will also involve close cooperation with the European Commission.
The success of the UNGASS was, in large measure, due to the tireless commitment and leadership of the Secretary General. Strong and sustained political commitment from the top is crucial to overcome stigma, discrimination, fear and bureaucratic inertia.
A particular challenge faces leaders in countries where the disease is gaining a foothold, but has not yet reached epidemic levels. They are at the edge of a precipice. Only resolute political leadership can stem the spread of the disease and prevent an economic and social catastrophe.
We must not lose our focus on strong and effective prevention programmes. These continue to be seriously under-funded and lack political support. The Secretary General's report points out that globally fewer than one in four people, at risk of infection, are able to obtain basic information regarding HIV/AIDS. This is a key challenge that must be tackled if we are to save the lives of millions of young people.
The recent agreement on access to medicines at the WTO paves the way for the provision of life-saving drugs to millions of infected people.
Ireland recently signed an agreement with the Clinton Foundation to cooperate with the Government of Mozambique in the establishment of a national treatment regime as part of a comprehensive approach also including prevention, care and support.
How will fragile health systems in very poor countries equitably provide life saving drugs in a way which does not divert scarce resources from the provision of basic health-care services?
I believe we need a new international forum, under the auspices of UNAIDS and its co-sponsors, where donors, developing countries, NGOs and the pharmaceutical industry can share views and practical experience. It is only through such international cooperation that treatment regimes can be provided in a way which strengthens rather than overwhelms health systems.
Prevention, care and treatment cost money. It is essential that pledges to the Global Fund are turned into hard cash, and quickly. Ireland has fully paid in €20 million to the Fund.
Within the framework of the massive increases in Ireland's ODA spending in recent years, as we pursue the objective of achieving the UN target of 0.7% by 2007, the volume of our ODA committed to HIV/AIDS programmes has increased ten-fold to over €40m in 2002.
Given the gravity of the challenge, it is imperative that every cent mobilised for HIV/AIDS is well spent. We need stronger coordination at the global level between the relevant UN agencies, the World Bank and the Global Fund.
I would like to see the issue of HIV/AIDS as a standing item on the agendas of the Executive Boards of the UNAIDS co-sponsors, and at the World Bank/IMF Development Committee.
We also need stronger coordination at the national level. The Governments of developing countries struggling to contain the epidemic should not be faced with a proliferation of donor driven committees, of competing agencies, of endless demands for reports and assessments. HIV/AIDS should be prioritised as an area where commitments to donor harmonisation are put into practice.
In addition to dealing with the present threat, we must also continue to work together to ensure that future generations are protected from the disease through a cheap and effective vaccine. Ireland has been a supporter of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative from the outset. We continue to see this public-private initiative as offering hope for the future through clinical trials which are pushing forward the global search for a vaccine.
We are also founder members of the International Partnership on Microbicides, a new research initiative which should make a major contribution to prevention efforts.
I welcome the focus in the Secretary General's report on the important contribution of NGOs and faith-based organisations. They are key partners for Ireland. Their international campaign was crucial to the promotion of agreement on access to medicines at the WTO. They remain indispensable also at the national level where their involvement in villages and communities is a pillar of prevention and care programmes.
In many countries HIV/AIDS is undermining agriculture and food security. HIV/AIDS is having a devastating effect on education systems as trained and committed teachers fall victim. It is steadily eroding government administrations, as experienced public servants cannot easily be replaced. It has created a generation of 14 million orphans who themselves are vulnerable to exploitation and exposure. It is stealthily eating away at the very fabric of societies and eliminating all hope of progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.
We face the prospect of more failed States, of countries slipping into a spiral of famine, underdevelopment, poor governance and hopelessness. We have the capacity to prevent this. The world has the medicines, the money, the know-how and the international institutions. We now need the political will to succeed.
Ireland remains committed to following the vision of the Secretary General and to doing all we can to support the implementation of the Declaration of Commitment.