4 April 2005 – The United Nations Commission on Population and Development kicked off its weeklong annual session today with top UN officials stressing the effects of HIV/AIDS on population dynamics, including population losses and decreased life expectancy, as well as the pandemic's links to increased extreme poverty, stalled economic growth and poor reproductive health in many parts of the world.
Spotlighting the Commission's special focus this year on population, development and HIV/AIDS, with particular emphasis on poverty, Jose Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, opened the session reflecting on the dramatic scope of the deadly disease, which kills over 3 million people a year.
"Since the United Nations adopted the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS in 2001, the epidemic continues to expand, with both rich and poor countries being affected," he said, stressing, however, that the hardest-hit countries are among the poorest in the world. Currently, over 40 million people are living with HIV, at least 25 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa. The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halting or reversing the spread of HIV was crucial for the development prospects of many countries.
Fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS demanded constant vigilance and sustained effort, he continued. Effective prevention programmes to reduce mother-to-child transmission, for instance, were still far from being universal and more also had to be done to expand access to anti-retroviral treatment. Full implementation of the action plan adopted by the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) could seriously contribute to helping reduce the spread of the disease, particularly by ensuring that people got the information and means to protect themselves against contagion, he added.
Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), said that for international strategies to be more effective, it was necessary to ensure that HIV/AIDS and reproductive health and family planning were linked, as appropriate. That would allow women at the community level to benefit directly from such services, and the services would be more efficient in reaching the vulnerable group of women and young people. That needed to be reflected in national plans and budgets, including health-sector reforms and poverty-reduction strategies.
HIV prevention required availability and accessibility of condoms, as part of the comprehensive approach adopted by the 2001 special session on HIV/AIDS, Ms. Obaid said. It was important to reach the vulnerable groups with information and services that addressed the realities they faced.
"We must confront the poverty, human rights violations and gender inequalities that drive the epidemic among women. By doing so, we will enable women and girls to protect their health, and that of their families and communities," she said.
The Director of the UN Population Division, Hannah Zlotnick, said about 45 out of every 100 young people in the developing world today lived in countries that were already highly affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Even if all new infections could be prevented as of today, the expected toll of the disease would hardly change over the next decade because of the large number of persons already infected, she added. It was, therefore, more important than ever that international solidarity be brought to bear in addressing that ongoing human tragedy. In that context, the deliberations of the Commission in the coming days could make an important contribution by reaffirming such solidarity and mapping the way forward.
Meanwhile Om Pradhan, Chief of Policy Development and Coordination in the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, noted that by 2050 the world’s poorest countries would have larger youth populations.
“This can be a highly productive resource, provided the least developed countries can contain HIV/AIDS, provide the requisite health and welfare facilities, education and training, with employment opportunities.”
Because of all those factors, it was increasingly difficult for the poorest countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the goals set out in the 2001 Brussels Programme of Action for those countries, which had called for appropriate health care for all individuals no later than 2015 and making available the widest achievable range of family planning and contraceptive methods.