UNITED NATIONS, Jul 17 (IPS) - The UN Security Council, which
deals primarily with war and peace, is launching its own battle
against one of the world's most devastating diseases: Acquired
Immune-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
The 15-member Council Monday unanimously adopted a resolution
underlying the importance of halting the spread of HIV/AIDS
through UN peacekeepers who have also been found to have
contracted the deadly disease.
Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock of Britain told the Council that
the resolution, initiated by the United States, focuses on the
link between the spread of HIV/AIDS and peacekeeping.
"That is not to denigrate peacekeepers as agents of the virus.
But the Council must always recognise that peacekeepers do not
operate in isolation from the local community," he added.
Greenstock said the resolution therefore highlights the
importance of peacekeepers from all countries being made aware
of the risks, both to themselves and to others, of HIV/AIDS.
Although the Security Council does not have the main
responsibility in fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic, he pointed
out, "all of our delegations must work together in the General
Assembly and in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to
take concrete steps that will make a difference."
The resolution says that the HIV/AIDS pandemic is being
exacerbated by conditions of violence and instability, which
"increases the risk of exposure to the disease through large
movements of people, widespread uncertainty over conditions and
reduced access to medical care."
If unchecked, the Council said, the HIV/AIDS pandemic may pose
a risk to stability and security.
The resolution urges member states to introduce "voluntary and
confidential testing and counselling" of all military officers
and civilians who are deployed in international peacekeeping
Peter Piot, Executive Director of the joint UNAIDS programme,
said the Council's emphasis on the "uniformed services" was
During the last several months, he said, the UNAIDS Secretariat
has sharpened its own focus on training and prevention measures
among uniformed services in several African countries,
including Zambia, Uganda and Senegal.
Piot said such training and prevention measures for the
military should also be part of every single AIDS programme -
even in rich industrial countries. "We agree with the drafters
of the resolution that voluntary and confidential HIV testing,
accompanied by counselling, has a vital role to play in HIV
prevention," he added.
Its benefits include improved health through earlier access to
care and treatment; better ability to cope with HIV-related
anxiety; and motivation and support to initiate or maintain
safer sexual behaviours.
Appealing to the Security Council for more resources, Piot said
that to fight the epidemic, Africa alone needs some 3 billion
dollars, almost 10 times what is being spent today.
Of particular interest to the Council, Piot pointed out, is the
intensified discussions now underway with the UN's Department
of Peacekeeping Operations, focusing on ways to promote
"responsible behaviour" among staff providing humanitarian aid,
and peacekeeping troops.
Specific follow-up actions include training before and during
deployment, as well as the development of a UN medical policy
on HIV/AIDS for personnel associated with UN missions,
including ensuring adequate supplies of condoms.
Last week, the United Nations said it had purchased over 1.5
million condoms for distribution to UN troops in Sierra Leone
and East Timor. The contraceptives, which are intended as
protective measures against AIDS, are being rationed out on the
basis of one condom per peacekeeper per day.
Of the 1.5 million condoms, about 1 million have been earmarked
for UN troops in Sierra Leone and the remaining 500,000 for
peacekeepers in East Timor. Currently, the world body has a
total of 14 peacekeeping operations based in several trouble
spots, including Lebanon, Cyprus, Bosnia and Herzegovina and
the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Addressing the Council, Ambassador Hazairin Pohan of Indonesia
proposed the inclusion of a medical unit in every UN mission,
specifically in countries where AIDS is spreading. This unit,
he said, should provide regular medical check-ups, on a daily
basis if necessary, to peacekeepers and other personnel in the
US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke told reporters last week that
"UN peacekeepers, unfortunately, help spread the disease while
trying to contain conflict. That was an unacceptable
situation," he added.
The United Nations does not have any precise figures as to how
many peacekeepers have contracted the disease because it does
not screen UN troops for AIDS. But countries that contribute
troops to UN missions are expected to ensure the health of
Given its complexity, Holbrooke said, many considered AIDS to
be the single most dangerous problem facing the world today,
not just in Africa, but throughout the world.
Currently, about 34.3 million people are now living with
HIV/AIDS worldwide. The number of new infections is estimated
at about 15,000 a day - and rising. The overwhelming majority
of people with HIV - some 95 percent of the global total - live
in the developing world. To date, about 18.8 million people
worldwide have died of AIDS, 3.8 million of them children.
According to UNAIDS, the most recent estimates show that in
1999 alone 5.4 million people were newly infected with HIV, and
4 million of them were in sub-Saharan Africa.