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Address by H.E. Arnold Rüütel The President of Estonia at the General Assembly High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS in New York on 2 June 2006

Mr President, Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to express my pleasure on the occasion of today’s high-level meeting. The implementation of the Declaration of Commitments adopted in 2001 is a common concern and responsibility of all the member states. While in the early years of the UN national security and avoidance of military threat were of primary concern, today the world is facing a new kind of threats and challenges, partially related to globalisation. One of the globalisation risks has realised through the spread of HIV virus. I agree with those who say that AIDS is not just a disease but also a security risk.

Speaking about security and safety, we cannot overlook the most significant component – a human being. The spread of HIV virus touches deeply various facets of the existence of the human being – values, attitudes and beliefs, social affiliation and also behaviour. To prevent an epidemic it is not enough to manufacture and take drugs, we should also reduce poverty and social exclusion as well as promote the development of public health system and societal development as a whole.

Fight against the epidemic can be really effective only if we tackle all the above aspects of life and - most importantly! – do it in collaboration with all the states. I consider it important that both government agencies and non-governmental organisations recognize their responsibility and participate in HIV prevention.

Yesterday on 1 June we celebrated the Child Protection Day. It is hard to speak about the protection of the weakest members of our society, knowing that over two million children in the world are HIV-infected. For many of them there is no access to medical care; every minute an AIDS-infected child dies. Thus, we should focus on children and pregnant women in order to prevent transfer of virus from mother to child.

It is difficult to limit the spread of HIV because at least in the initial period the disease spreads among various social groups. In Estonia the first HIV-positive cases were among injecting drug addicts. This means that with HIV spreading, we had to fight both against drug addiction and alcohol abuse.

Through a complex solution to various social problems we could create conditions to overcome the problems. However, it is important to stress that we should avoid stigmatizing HIV positive people. Fear to be socially rejected, to lose job and social status – these are the reasons why people are afraid to be tested or do not dare to mention their HIV positive status to their fellows.

If we would like to win this fight, we should be able to overcome social prejudices and shame which prevent us from speaking openly about HIV and related issues. This is the task facing all states and societies, despite their statistics on incidence. Our fight against social exclusion and stigmatization is closely linked with the sustainability of the society – with one of the most crucial future-related issues.

Talking more specifically about HIV cases, I consider it essential to provide access to antiretroviral treatment for everybody in need of this treatment. However, today the treatment is far too expensive for many the infected, although the lives of millions of people, families and upbringing of children depend on it. I call upon you to pay more attention to this aspect!

Just about ten years ago most of the people in Estonia did not know much about HIV – we just heard bits and pieces of news from outside world. Today - as the President of the Republic of Estonia – I am deeply concerned about the spread of the disease in our country. However, I can assure you – in recent years we have taken serious steps to stop the spread of HIV in Estonia.

Prevention is significantly more systematic. Last year Estonia’s new national HIV strategy was completed. The broad-based drafting of the strategy involved government agencies, experts, academic organisations, non-profit organisations and HIV positive people. Drafting the strategy we took into consideration principles which we agreed upon in the UN in 2001.

Our preventive work has been partially successful as can be seen from the very fact that the number of new infected cases is decreasing. However, we are concerned because the virus has spread outside the so-called risk groups.

Funding of HIV-related issues has increased several times over the recent years and the number of cooperation partners in prevention has gone up. The Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis has been of major assistance, helping us to take significant steps to limit the spread of the epidemic. I would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Global Fund.

Mr President!

I consider our high-level meeting and commitment to finding a common solution to this problem a significant message to the world. We realise that no country can win this fight alone, it takes international solidarity to be successful. Estonia as a member of the European Union collaborates with various countries and will accede to all upcoming international joint efforts to prevent HIV.

Thank you for your attention!

© 2006 Office of the President l tel: + 372 631 6202 l fax: + 372 631 6250 l