UNITED NATIONS, June 25 (UPI) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan urged the world community Monday to change its attitude
toward AIDS and underscored that "never, since the nightmare
began, has there been such a moment of common purpose" in the
battle against it.
"We cannot deal with AIDS by making moral judgments, or
refusing to face unpleasant facts, and still less by
stigmatizing those who are infected," Annan said in his
inaugural speech at the U.N. General Assembly's special session
Some 2,200 delegates from governments, the private sector and
non-governmental organizations have arrived in New York for the
three-day meeting, which aims at "galvanizing leadership,
intensifying international action and mobilizing resources to
combat the pandemic."
Annan, who has led a drive to establish a Global AIDS and
Health Fund with contributions from all sectors, urged
delegates to "make sure it is used effectively" by making it
operational at year's end.
The U.N. has estimated that some $9.2 billion will be needed
annually to combat the disease. Several private donors, among
them the U.S.-based Gates Foundation and the Swiss insurance
company Winthertur, have already pledged large contributions to
AIDS, which has killed almost 22 million people and left 13
million children orphaned worldwide, "can no longer do its
deadly work in the dark," Annan said. "The world has started
to wake up."
"When we urge others to change their behavior, so as to protect
themselves against infection, we must be ready to change our
own behavior in the public arena," Annan said.
In what seemed like an elliptical reference to some religious
groups opposed to international policies about sex education
and prevention measures, Annan said, "We can only do it by
speaking clearly and openly, both about the ways that people
become infected, and about what they can do to avoid
"And let us remember that every person who is infected --
whatever the reason -- is a fellow human being, with human
rights and human needs," he added.
Conservative Islamic countries, the Catholic Church and some
other Christian groups have already expressed firm opposition
to the distribution of condoms, the dissemination of
information on safe sex and the use of contraceptive methods to
prevent the spread of the disease.
Some 140 speakers, including heads of state, ministers of
health and other officials, are scheduled to speak during the
three-day session. Simultaneously, representatives of hundreds
of non-governmental organizations and the private sector will
participate in different panels on issues related to HIV/AIDS.
One of the highlights of the meeting will be a special panel on
orphans and vulnerable children, organized by UNICEF, the
U.N.'s Children's Fund. The keynote speaker will be actor and
singer Harry Belafonte, who is a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.
The panel, scheduled for Tuesday, will explore the impact of
AIDS on children and the various means to respond to the
The General Assembly's special session is expected to produce a
final declaration outlining recommendations for a global action
against the disease, based on the contributions and suggestions
presented by the delegations.