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Address by Ms. Cihan Sultanoglu, UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative, at the Parliamentary Hearings of the Council of the Republic on the State Policy of the Republic of Belarus on HIV/AIDS Prevention, 1 December 2006
Dear Mr. Chairman; distinguished Members of the Council of the Republic,
It is a great honour for me to address you today from the floor of the Parliament of the Republic of Belarus. For the first time in the history of the UN in Belarus, the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations has this opportunity. The occasion is remarkable because today is World AIDS Day. This proves the significance that the leadership of the country attaches to this issue and strengthens my hope that Belarus may be one of the countries – if not the first – in the region where the epidemic could be reversed.
This year, the world marked the 25th year since the HIV virus was first diagnosed in 1981. How did the world change since then? I must say quite dramatically: today more than 39.5 million people are HIV-infected, out of whom 17 million are women and 2.3 million are children. 12 million children have become orphans because of AIDS. The global estimated need in financial resources for 2006-2008 for the low and middle income countries to combat AIDS is US$ 55 billion. Today, globally, more than US$ 8 billion a year is spent for combating this disease in developing countries only.
How does Belarus stand in the regional context? Belarus is one of the few countries in Eastern and Central Europe where one can say that the situation is under control or stabilized. Compared to its neighbours – Russia, Ukraine and Latvia, where it is estimated that more than 1% of the adult population is HIV-infected, Belarus with its 0.3% prevalence rate looks in a better shape. This shows that, in Belarus, thanks to the Government’s public health policy and efforts of the national AIDS Centre and other governmental structures, as well as many non-governmental organizations working in this field, it has been possible to rein in the fast spread of the epidemic. Today, the prevalence rate of HIV infection in Belarus is similar to that of Austria and Canada. On the other hand, regardless of how good the numbers may seem, the global experience has proven that one cannot afford to sit idle. Belarus steadily demonstrates increase in sexual mode of HIV-infection - more than 60% of all cases in 2006 - and rapid increase of the share of women in the overall HIV-incidence rate (33.5% as of 1 November). The rate of HIV-transmission from mother-to-child still remains very high. 8% of all children born to HIV-positive mothers are HIV infected. The same indicator in Western Europe equals 1-3%.
According to the UNAIDS/WHO 2006 AIDS Epidemic Update which was issued on 21 November, Eastern Europe and Central Asia demonstrated 50% increase in HIV prevalence rate since 2004. This is a matter of serious concern. The main route of HIV transmission remains sharing of needles among intravenous drug users. Belarus is not an exception. According to the Narcological Service of the Ministry of Health, the number of young people registered as drug users at age below 15 tripled in the last few years. The epidemic continues to target the young of the population.
What are the lessons learnt globally, which can also be useful for Belarus?:
1) The countries are recommended to exercise comprehensive approach to prevention, where prevention programmes should include all risk groups, such as intravenous drug users, commercial sex workers, men having sex with men, prisoners, and young people at the age of 15-24 years old.
2) At the national level, there has to be one body coordinating all aspects of prevention and treatment.
3) Countries should set their targets of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care based on the continuous knowledge and analysis of their HIV epidemics. The targets should reflect the priorities given in the National HIV Prevention Programmes and focus on the most critical areas.
4) Involvement of non-governmental organisations is crucial in prevention activities, in particular involvement of people living with HIV/AIDS, who can become the best advocates in the prevention campaigns and achieving the national targets.
5) Political support at the highest level in the government is critical for the country to set and reach these targets by 2010.
Ladies and gentlemen, Let us remind ourselves once again: “Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise!”
I am sure that many of you have heard these words already and have seen the posters proclaiming it in the streets of Minsk and other cities. This is the slogan of the World AIDS campaign launched in 2005 and will continue for 5 years. Many people are curious: what is this promise? Who should keep which promise? In 2000 at the Global Summit of Heads of States, the countries, including Belarus, agreed to reverse the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2015. Belarus has all the chances to keep that promise. Today, in Belarus, a lot is being done to reach this goal. Many of you know that, in 2004, Belarus received a grant from the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria for 5 years for a total of nearly US$ 17 million. Today, the second phase of this grant starts. The success of this grant so far was made possible due to the leadership provided by the Ministry of Health and close cooperation among the partners involved in the process. I look forward to the continuing achievement of further good results in the future.
Ladies and gentlemen, each one of us can make a promise to ourselves and promote responsible living: Never touch drugs, be faithful to our partners, never discriminate against those who are affected by AIDS. However, you, as Members of the Council, as representatives of your constituencies, have a bigger mandate to speak out against HIV/AIDS; to support national programs for universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care; to make resources available to fight the epidemic and prepare appropriate legislation where needed. We are counting on you.
Let me conclude by the words of Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General: “The only acceptable goal for the world is to stop and, ultimately, put an end to AIDS. Only then will we achieve the Millennium Development Goals and succeed in our efforts to build a humane, healthy and equitable world.”
Thank you, and I wish you much success in your honorable work.
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