Press Release

Stronger Prevention Effort Needed to Halt HIV/AIDS, UN Population Fund Executive Director Tells African Summit

27 April 2001
Author: UNFPA

ABUJA, Nigeria - A stepped-up effort to prevent the spread of infection is the only way to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS, the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said today in a statement to the African Summit on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Other Related Infectious Diseases.

Thoraya A. Obaid stressed to the African leaders gathered here that prevention must accompany treatment and support to those infected. “We already know enough to mount an effective prevention campaign,” she said. Key elements include:

  • Empowering women and girls to refuse unsafe sex or to abstain from sexual relations.
  • Changing men’s attitudes and behaviour towards women.
  • Ensuring access to condoms, through increased international donor support.
  • Combatting other sexually transmitted infections, which assist the transmission of HIV.
  • Recognizing “the part played by poverty and deprivation in spreading infection”.
  • Countering the shame, stigma and silence surrounding HIV/AIDS.
  • Ensuring that young people know how to protect themselves, and including them in decisions that affect their lives.

The two-day summit, convened by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and hosted by Nigeria, opened yesterday following two days of technical and ministerial meetings. In the opening session, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for the creation of a new global fund to fight HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Other speakers included Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim and former United States President Bill Clinton.

Ms. Obaid, who became Executive Director in January, spoke during a session on partnerships against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.

“African countries need the world’s help and many additional resources to help fight HIV/AIDS, but success will come as the result of leadership and commitment within Africa itself,” Ms. Obaid said in her statement. “Providing treatment, care and support for more than 25 million people now living with HIV/AIDS in Africa is a human rights imperative and a public health priority.” She added, “Africa’s leadership in fighting HIV/AIDS and preventing its spread will provide many lessons that can be used in other parts of the world, and immediately in Asia and Eastern Europe.”

“Women are often not equal with men as they enter into sexual relations; often they are forced into sex due to violence or the effects of poverty,” Ms. Obaid noted. “We must work with men to ensure that they respect women’s right to say NO to unsafe sex as well as to abstain from sex.”

“We may find it difficult to speak about sexual activity” to young people, who account for half of all new infections. “We must overcome our reservations,” she urged. “All the evidence shows that young people who are armed with information and who have access to counselling and services start their sexual lives later, and they are less likely to fall victim to infection or unwanted pregnancy.”

Ms. Obaid told the summit she had met yesterday with young people from youth advocacy organizations in several African countries. “They described their efforts to be heard by us, the elders, as ‘a cry in the wilderness’. … Please let us hear them well, so that … the cry of their exclusion from matters that affect their lives turns into an expression of satisfaction that they are being included in those matters.”

The Executive Director’s remarks reinforced several points made by Secretary-General Annan yesterday:

  • “Our first objective must be to halt and reverse the spread of the virus. …Prevention can save many millions of lives, and in several African countries it has been shown to work.”
  • “We must give young people the knowledge and power to protect themselves.”
  • “We cannot and should not choose between prevention and treatment. We must do both.”
  • “Only when women can speak up, and have a full say in decisions affecting their lives, will they be able to truly protect themselves—and their children—against HIV.”

In addition to high-level African government delegations–including several presidents and heads of state - summit participants include representatives of non-governmental organizations involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS, health experts and private sector executives. This afternoon, OAU member states are expected to adopt a declaration of commitment and a framework for action against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other related infectious diseases.

During her first official visit to Africa as Executive Director, Ms. Obaid on 24 April met with President Obasanjo. The following day she visited a maternity hospital and other UNFPA-supported projects in Nasarawa state.

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UNFPA, the world’s largest multilateral source of population assistance to developing countries, supports reproductive health programmes including family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention efforts worldwide.

Contact Information:

William A. Ryan
Tel.: +66 2 288 2446

Abubakar Dungus
Tel.: +1 (212) 297-5031

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