AIDS and the U.N.

Today marks the closing of the first-ever U.N. General Assembly Special Session on a health-related subject. The discussion topic was HIV/AIDS and diplomats are scheduled to sign a declaration tonight setting goals and targets for controlling the pandemic. Before the signing occurs, it would be in the best interest of all concerned if the rhetoric expressed by leaders ended in direct action, as opposed to empty words.

As with any large effort, various roadblocks hinder the fight against AIDS. One major roadblock was summed up by British Secretary of State for International Aid and Development Clair Short who said, “We use up enormous energy in arguing at great length over texts that provide few if any follow-up mechanisms or assurances that governments and U.N. agencies will carry forward the declarations that are agreed.”

The declaration is a promising start, but it’s hard to say if it will be backed by concrete action. Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed the creation of a global fund to wage war against AIDS and other diseases. Yet many have given only lip service when committing to help. The plan, which calls for $7 billion to $10 billion, only has a bank account of about $500 million. The United States has promised $200 million for the fund, and in a speech before the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed our government has already spent over $1.6 billion to fight AIDS. However, contrast this with the $18.4 billion increase President George W. Bush would like to see go into the 2002 defense budget, already at an approximate $296 billion. The money the Bush administration has been putting toward fighting AIDS is purposely negligent at best.

Twenty-two million people have died from AIDS. Thirteen million children are orphaned by AIDS, 36 million people live with AIDS or HIV and 15,000 people will be infected with AIDS tomorrow. Although not all of these people are in America, it is not a reason for our government to give less. AIDS is threatening our global family and we cannot deny the interconnectedness of our world. The United States must help, with equal vigor, those who suffer in our country and those who suffer in sub-Saharan Africa.

Leaders should not be afraid to speak and act with all forcefulness and directness to combat AIDS. It is troubling that some Islamic governments as well as the Vatican are opposed to wording in the declaration which includes a statement about needing to help “men who have sex with men, sex workers, injecting drug users and their sexual partners.” If leaders are unable to speak about all AIDS victims or how the disease is spread, it will be difficult to combat the illness. Some have suggested using “vulnerable individuals,” instead of using direct language. This is unacceptable. AIDS doesn’t claim the moral or the immoral, and governments who oppose such direct language are stuck in systems of thought that do not address the real problems that we face.

Money and action will solve this pandemic. Words are only useful to a point, and people have been talking about AIDS for the past 20 years. It is time for nations, not just individuals, to become serious about this issue. Every day that officials debate and talk is another day that someone dies.