Least Developed States Demand Strongest Measures Against HIV/AIDS

  • 22 May 2001

The Third United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries held in Brussels, from 14 to 20 May 2001, concluded by adopting by consensus a political declaration in which 193 participating governments committed themselves to eradicating poverty in the world’s poorest countries and improving the quality of live of their more than 600 million people. Also expressing particular concern regarding the acute threat of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, conferees emphasized the need for the strongest possible measures to combat it.

UNFPA's Executive Director, Ms. Obaid, at the Third United Nations Conference on the LDCs, in Brussels.

Such a strong position on HIV/AIDS was an outcome sought by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The Fund’s Executive Director, Thoraya Obaid, requested urgent action against the disease in her maiden address to a major United Nations conference. A special event organized by the Fund, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and other partners also focussed attention on the damage AIDS causes to many countries’ development. Participants included Ms. Obaid, the Fund’s Goodwill Ambassadors, Miss Universe 1999, Mpule Kwelagobe; and Belgian television personality, Goedele Liekens; and European policy and lawmakers.

“Participating in the struggle to end the pandemic is a priority for UNFPA,“ said Ms. Obaid at the LDCs Conference. “To that effect, UNFPA, along with its UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS] partners, promotes a comprehensive approach, including prevention, curative services and creating the necessary structures and institutions to deal with its social and economic consequences.”

“UNFPA’s strategy calls for abstinence, fidelity, delaying the age of sexual relations among young people, changing the behaviour of men and women, empowering women to say NO and making men understand and respect women’s position,” the Executive Director continued. “It also includes the most immediate and least costly response, that is, the use of condoms.”

Mpule Kwelagobe at the UNFPA/IPPF event at LDCs conference.

The LDCs Conference, attended by more than 6,500 participants from governments, United Nations bodies and civil society, also adopted by consensus a 10-year Programme of Action that addresses population issues, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, development assistance, debt cancellation and private investment in the 49 least developed countries (LDCs).

The Programme of Action for the decade 2001-2010 outlines a broad range of measures to be taken by developed nations and LDCs in the form of specific commitments on, among others, good governance at national and international levels; building human and institutional capacities; enhancing the role of trade in development; reducing vulnerability and protecting the environment; and mobilizing financial resources.

“LDCs’ greatest assets are their women, men and children whose potentials as both agents and beneficiaries of development must be fully realized,” the Programme states in the opening part of the commitment on building capacities, which covers population, health, education, social integration and services. “Efforts at development of human capacities in LDCs have been affected by low school enrolment and low health, nutrition and sanitation status and by the prevalence of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, particularly in Africa…. Making steady progress in this area will be a major objective during the decade. An immediate priority is to focus greater effort on fighting HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis and their social and economic impact.”

The LDCs and their partners committed themselves in the next decade to goals and actions such as making reproductive health accessible to all individuals of appropriate ages no later than the year 2015. They would also make available the widest achievable range of safe, effective, affordable and acceptable family planning and contraceptive methods.

To meet those goals, the LDCs would strengthen their population policies and health care systems, as well as increase the availability of the widest range of quality health care, including reproductive and sexual health care, and promote reproductive rights as defined in the Programme of Action of the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).

For their part, developed nations would, according to the Brussels Programme, provide enhanced support to LDCs’ efforts to build their capacities for formulating and implementing population and development policies.

Regarding health, the Brussels Programme of Action committed participants to policies and measures to reduce the maternal mortality rate by three quarters of the current rate by 2015 and HIV infection rates in 15-to-24-year-olds by 25 per cent in the most affected countries. They would also increase the percentage of women receiving maternal and prenatal care by 60 per cent.

Goedele Liekens listens to presentations on HIV/AIDS' impact on development.

“Making the reduction of maternal mortality a high priority is a human rights imperative,” Ms. Obaid said at the Conference. “UNFPA has strongly supported these moves, helping countries to improve reproductive health services; working to end harmful traditional practices and all forms of violence against women; … to remind countries of the global agreements on women’s empowerment and gender equity and equality.”

Using language similar to that of the June-July 1999 General Assembly special session on the Cairo Programme of Action, Brussels conferees committed themselves to actions to ensure that all children, particularly girls, have access to free and compulsory primary education by 2015. They also committed themselves to eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ equal access to and achievement in good-quality basic education.

In the second document adopted at the LDCs Conference – the Brussels Declaration on LDCs – governments concluded: “We reaffirm our commitment to the development of the 49 LDCs and to the improvement of the lives of the more than 600 million women, men and children living in those countries. Our common efforts will be an important contribution to achieving the international development goals….”

Seven mutually reinforcing international development goals arose from the global United Nations conferences of the 1990s. Each addresses a different aspect of poverty. The UNFPA helps promote development and poverty reduction by acting as the leading or partner United Nations body in the pursuit of four of these goals to:

Provide access for all who need reproductive health services by 2015;

Reduce maternal mortality ratios by three quarters between 1990 and 2015;

Make progress towards gender equality and empowering women by eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005;

Enroll ALL children in primary school by 2015.

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