It´s Possible to Win War Against AIDS, Vatican Says

Holy See´s Representative Addresses U.N. Committee

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NEW YORK, MAR. 1, 2001 ( Under certain conditions it is possible to win the battle against AIDS, a Vatican representative told the United Nations.

Archbishop Renato R. Martino, permanent observer of the Vatican, made that assessment Tuesday when he addressed the Preparatory Committee for the special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS. The session will be held from June 25-27.

The U.N. summit aims to secure a global commitment to combat the AIDS epidemic. On Feb. 20, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan published a report in which he states that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is «the most formidable development challenge of our time.»

Annan´s report reveals that at the end of last year, 36.1 million men, women and children around the world were living with HIV or AIDS, and 21.8 million had died from the disease. Last year 5.3 million new infections and 3 million deaths occurred globally, the highest annual total of AIDS deaths ever, according to estimates.

The most affected area is sub-Saharan Africa. Africa is home to 70% of adults and 80% of children living with HIV, and to three-quarters of the people worldwide who have died of AIDS since the epidemic began. During 2000, an estimated 3.8 million people were infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, and 2.4 million people died. AIDS is now the principal cause of death in Africa.

Archbishop Martino said that «the same solidarity, attention and resources that brought about the near eradication of the scourges of polio and small pox, could be applied to confront the pandemic of HIV/AIDS.

He said he believes the forthcoming U.N. summit must to go to the root of the epidemic. «With this in mind, the Holy See must restate its long-standing and well-known position regarding the spread of the disease,» the archbishop said. «Abstinence, responsible behavior, the ability to be protected from the irresponsible behavior of others, and increased awareness in ending the ignorance that allows the disease to continue to spread, must be included in the discussion.»

Archbishop Martino stressed the need for the future U.N. assembly to put aside ideologies and address the problem in its reality: «We must ensure the participation of those who are on the front line of the battle against the pandemic, as well as those who care for those affected by HIV and AIDS.»

The archbishop called for a change in the mentality which has spread to many countries. People must «see this not as a pandemic that seems so overwhelming but rather as a disease that affects one person, a family, a community, a nation, and the entire world,» he said.

«The importance of this upcoming special session cannot be overestimated,» Archbishop Martino concluded. «It will provide an opportunity to discuss, address, and establish a new solidarity in combating, caring, healing, and curing. The whole world is watching, people are dying, and the United Nations must continue to be seen as the place where the real discussion is held and, hopefully, with God´s help, the place where the first leg of the race was won.»

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