HIV/AIDS

MESSAGE ON WORLD AIDS DAY 2002 by Kofi Annan

Secretary-General of the United Nations

The worldwide HIV epidemic has created a terrible burden for millions of individuals, families and communities around the world. Relieving it requires improved healthcare, better access to treatments, more vigorous prevention efforts, more effective social outreach, and support for those most vulnerable -- particularly orphans.

But there is another terrible burden imposed by AIDS, which each and every one of us has the capacity to relieve: the burden of HIV-related stigma.

Some people with AIDS are being denied basic rights such as food or shelter, and dismissed from jobs they are perfectly fit to perform. They may be shunned by their community, or most tragic of all, by their own family.

The fear of stigma leads to silence, and when it comes to fighting AIDS, silence is death. It suppresses public discussion about AIDS, and deters people from finding out whether they are infected. It can cause people -- whether a mother breastfeeding her child or a sexual partner reluctant to disclose their HIV status -- to risk transmitting HIV rather than attract suspicion that they might be infected.

But the walls of stigma and silence are weakening. There is evidence of progress on every continent. Leaders are speaking out at the highest level. The rights of people living with HIV/AIDS are being defended through the courts. Standards are being set in the workplace. Schools, the media and youth education programmes are helping to create a generation better equipped to live in the world of AIDS. And last year, at a Special Session of the General Assembly, all the Member States of the United Nations unanimously adopted a Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS which sent a clear message around the world. They pledged to enact or enforce legislation outlawing discrimination against people living with HIV and members of vulnerable groups.

But whatever laws and regulations are adopted, the most powerful weapons against stigma and silence are the voices of the world's people speaking up about AIDS. By adopting the slogan "Live and Let Live," this year's World AIDS Campaign challenges us to ensure that all people, with or without HIV, can realize their human rights and live in dignity. On this World AIDS Day, let us resolve to replace stigma with support, fear with hope, silence with solidarity. Let us act on the understanding that this work begins with each and every one of us.

Kofi A. Annan

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