Press Release

'We Know Prevention Works', UNFPA Executive Director Tells UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS

27 June 2001

Ms. Thoraya A. Obaid
Photo: United Nations

United Nations, New York - Following is the statement given today by Ms. Thoraya A. Obaid, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS (please check against delivery):

Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,

I am honoured to address the General Assembly for the first time, but I am sad that my first words to you are on this tragic matter of HIV/AIDS. In the worst affected countries the pandemic threatens to destroy a whole generation of leaders, workers and parents, and to create a generation of orphans. In many countries, which are not yet fully aware of the danger, the infection is creeping through the population, preparing to strike in full force.

UNGASS and saving people’s lives

Today we are striking back. Today AIDS has brought us together. We are united in our purpose, and unity offers the only prospect of success.

We are united today across all boundaries and all barriers and across all cultures. The negotiations have been long and difficult. But as we study the Declaration, we know that all differences were set aside for one common goal – to say NO to the spread of HIV/AIDS and to say YES to Prevention, Care and Treatment.

Consensus-building around social issues is extremely difficult, because it touches the identity of nations, communities and individuals. Discussion of social questions polarizes viewpoints and may seem to widen the gap between cultures. But in the end, the overriding social purpose concentrates our minds and enables us to bridge all cultural gaps—not because we want to go home with an agreed form of words, but because all of us, each in our own way, want to save people’s lives.


Mr. President, UNFPA is one of seven cosponsors of UNAIDS - a leading global force and I believe, one of the leading success stories of interagency cooperation in the United Nations. We all work together, within our mandates, utilizing our individual comparative advantages to contribute to a comprehensive and synergistic response. For UNFPA, our area of comparative advantage is prevention. We have worked hard over the past 30 years with governments, civil society institutions and international organizations to help countries provide reproductive health information and services.

And now countries are using the experience and expertise gained over a generation, to deliver information, to train health workers and to provide reproductive health services, including prevention and treatment for HIV/AIDS. We are putting HIV/AIDS in a health context that includes other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as such diseases as malaria and tuberculosis, which assist HIV transmission.

Social context of HIV/AIDS- poverty, women and adolescents

We are also concerned with putting the pandemic in its social context, a context that includes poverty, illiteracy, lack of access to health services--basically a context of inequality. Women are increasingly the victims of this disease, as a consequence of their powerlessness, discrimination and lack of resources. Women need the power to protect themselves from HIV infection. They need information; they need services and they need to be empowered to exercise their right to control their lives and their sexuality. Women need to be empowered to say NO.

UNFPA-supported programmes also reach out to boys and men. Our experience shows that successful programmes do not blame or exclude people. Leaders at all levels, especially community leaders, are engaging men in dialogue to ensure responsible sexual behaviour. They are discussing the need for men to respect women and girls, and treat them as equals. They are asking adult men to give a good example to boys as they grow into manhood, by respecting their wives, by empowering their daughters and by educating all their children.

When it comes to adolescents and young people, we may find it difficult to speak of such a culturally sensitive topic. But we must find a way. We live in a rapidly changing environment: cultures become stronger when they adapt to change and learn to manage it, building on the wisdom of the elders and the energy of the young.

The changing environment requires that listen to children and young people, communicating with them about matters that concern them but often confuse them, matters that are culturally sensitive but are essential to their well being.

All our different cultures have common elements; among these, one is of critical importance – the value of knowledge. We should not fear that information about sexuality will encourage promiscuity. For ignorance is our worst enemy. Hundreds of studies and long experience both show that young people can and will protect themselves. But we must trust them, and provide them with the necessary information and access to appropriate counselling and services.

HIV prevention works

We know that HIV prevention works and it works most effectively in partnerships. I would like to tell you about one exciting partnership—the African Youth Alliance, which brings together governments, UNFPA, international and national NGOs, community and religious leaders, and the private sector. With support from the Gates Foundation we are expanding programmes for youth nationwide in four African countries: Botswana, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda. These countries are all committed to fighting HIV/AIDS and we are helping their young people acquire the skills, information and services they need to avoid infection. This project is unprecedented in scale and will serve as a model for other national programmes worldwide.

With our emphasis on prevention, UNFPA is on the front line of the battle against HIV/AIDS. With our partners we have developed a Global Strategy for Reproductive Health Commodity Security. Implementing the strategy will ensure that governments and communities have the essentials they need to protect reproductive health.

Funding is urgently needed to implement the Strategy. It is also needed for education and awareness campaigns, for training health care providers and counsellors, and for improving health systems.

Lastly, Mr. President, Excellencies, this Special Session on HIV/AIDS has agreed on what needs to be done to prevent the further spread of infection, and how to do it. Now the task is to translate the Declaration into concrete actions in each country and community. UNFPA is dedicated to that task. We come from a wide spectrum of cultural backgrounds and differences of approach, but we are committed to one purpose—saving people’s lives.

Thank you.

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UNFPA is the world's largest multilateral source of population assistance to developing counties. The Fund supports reproductive health programmes including family planning and HIV prevention efforts worldwide. Working closely with partners in national governments, non-governmental organizations and other UN agencies, UNFPA places particular emphasis on prevention among young people and pregnant women, and condom programming.

Contact Information:

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

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