Statement to the National Press Club, in Washington D.C.

25 November 2002
Author: UNFPA

I am pleased to be here today at the National Press Club. I would like to thank the President of Population Communications International, David Andrews, for inviting me. It is an honour to share the podium with Everett Rogers and Arvind Singhal, the co-authors of the new book, Combating AIDS: Communication Strategies in Action.

Ladies and gentlemen,

AIDS is a global emergency that demands an urgent global response. Today there are about 42 million people living with HIV/AIDS and 25 million people have already died from the disease. There are 14 million AIDS orphans.

AIDS is more than a threat to public health; it is a threat to humanity. And we must respond with global solidarity.

The African countries that are the hardest-hit are watching gains in health and education being swept away. The epidemic is carving out societies, stealing away the most productive members-parents, teachers, workers and farmers-leaving old people and children to fend for themselves with little support. Health systems are unable to cope and families, communities and entire nations are coming unravelled. But the story does not have to be one of death and destruction.

UNFPA is one of the co-sponsors of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and we know what works because we have seen progress in countries such as Thailand, Uganda, Senegal and Cambodia. We know that people must have accurate information about HIV/AIDS and know how the virus is transmitted and how it is stopped.

We know that we have to break the silence, stigma and discrimination that fuel the epidemic. That is why this year's Global AIDS Campaign has the slogan, "Live and Let Live."

And, perhaps, most importantly, if we want to stop this epidemic, we know that we have to spread effective prevention strategies faster than the spread of the HIV virus itself and to reach all people who are at risk.

Experience shows that the political will of top government leaders is a key factor in a nation's success in controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS. We also know that communication strategies can be extremely effective in changing behaviour if they are in tune with local cultures and if they address specific groups.

One of the campaigns partly funded by UNFPA and initiated by Population Communications International is a radio soap opera, called 'Twende na Wakati', (Let's go with the Times). This award-winning radio programme has been on the air in Tanzania since 1993. Research shows that it has motivated thousands of Tanzanian young men and women to adopt HIV prevention behaviours and begin practicing family planning. This programme is heard by listeners and discussed among peers, which leads to behaviour change.

UNFPA is now working to take these lessons to a much larger scale through the African Youth Alliance. The Alliance is a five-year initiative to improve adolescent reproductive health and reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in four African countries: Botswana, Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania. Through the Alliance, young people, both in and out of school, are being educated about HIV/AIDS prevention and provided with necessary information, skills, and support to protect their health.

Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the African Youth Alliance is committed to making a big difference in young people's lives by getting them directly involved in the work and by providing resources and support to encourage healthy behaviour.

All over the world, UNFPA has made HIV prevention for adolescents and young people a top priority.

Today, one young person dies from AIDS every minute.
Today, young people are the most vulnerable to HIV infection and the least prepared to prevent it.
Today, half of all new infections occur among young people aged 15 to 24.
Yet, recent surveys show that half of all young people worldwide do not know how to protect themselves from HIV infection.

While young people are not all the same, they all have one thing in common. They need to know about the choices they have to stay healthy.

Sexual and reproductive health education programmes that convey a range of options, including abstinence, delayed onset of sexual activity, keeping to one partner, and correct and consistent use of condoms, have proved to be the most effective ways in preventing HIV infections and preventing unwanted pregnancy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, the AIDS epidemic is dramatically concentrated in the developing world, where 95 per cent of the world's estimated 40 million people now living with HIV or AIDS reside. At the same time, 95 per cent of AIDS prevention resources are currently spent in developed nations.

Greater resources are needed in the developing world to fight AIDS. Resources are needed for all the prevention and behavioural change programmes that must be expanded and/or initiated, such as the 'Twende na Wakati'. Resources are also needed for the 8 billion condoms required to prevent infection, while all that is available from international funding provides for 95 million, 12 per cent of what is needed.

We can change the course of the epidemic if we scale up funding for prevention, in addition to care and treatment. Greater commitment is needed at all levels to fight HIV/AIDS and the stigma, discrimination and ignorance that enable the disease to thrive.

Thank you.

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