Statement by H.E. Abelardo Moreno, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba at the Special Session of the 58 session of the United Nations General Assembly devoted to HIV/AIDS. New York, 22 September 2003.
The UN General Assembly session devoted to the struggle against HIV/AIDS, held on June 2001, represented a relevant political momentum to confront this galloping pandemic. But our world is still seriously ill and increasingly divided. The vast gap between the rich and the poor, between North and South prevails worldwide.
We live in a world where the fifth part of the children born in the poorest countries do not live to be 5 years old, whereas in rich countries, those who die account for less than one out of 100 children.
In rich countries less than 5% of all children under five years old suffer malnutrition, whereas, in poor nations the rate reaches a 50%. In rich countries 17% of youngsters from 15 to 24 years of age are illiterate, while in poor nations this rate reaches a 70%.
Drinking water, such an essential and indispensable product, continues to be an illusion for more than a billion people in the whole planet. It would be enough, if ten billion dollars were annually devoted, until 2015, for provisioning and purification water programs in order to guarantee this essential human right.
In our world, medical achievements, the improvement of eating diets and sanitary conditions have led to a drastic reduction of morbidity and a life expectancy increase, but the most vulnerable sectors and the poorest segments of society have been alarmingly excluded from this process.
More than a billion people lack low-cost essential drugs, and more than a billion still cannot meet their basic needs for food, sanitation, health care, housing and education.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic does not escape this rough reality. The disease increasingly expands, with greater force, within the poorest and most alienated population having no access to education and healthcare services. It is gradually more concentrated in those countries victims of the unjust and unsustainable international economic order, suffering adverse economic and social conditions particularly in the high-risk groups of the urban population subsisting in poverty and marginality, among which proliferate prostitution, drug addiction and other destructive phenomena. As noted by Dr. Peter Piot's Report to the General Assembly, the latest available data indicate that the epidemic is progressively spreading towards the poorest and most alienated sectors. AIDS is, nowadays, one of the worst consequences of the long and sad history of exclusion of millions of people.
More than two thirds of the people infected with HIV and those who have developed AIDS in the world, live in Africa. Reality in this continent is truly dramatic, especially if taking into consideration the critical economic and social situation that the majority of the populations of those countries live in, which makes it more vulnerable. Only a minute part of tens of millions of infected Africans receive the antiretroviral treatment they require. Other millions do not have access to medicine for the treatment of opportunistic infections either.
In general terms, and despite no country is exempt from suffering HIV/AIDS, only a few, basically rich countries, have managed to reduce mortality by means of high-cost drugs. In many others, mainly the poorest, numerous lives are lost every minute, the security of millions of families is at stake and whole populations run the risk of disappearing.
Cuba has succeeded in containing this pandemic regardless the fierce economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States, for it hinders access to 50% of the new drugs produced in the world by US companies or their subsidiaries, which cannot keep economic and trade relations with my country, due to the embargo acts.
So far there are 4,979 people infected with HIV in Cuba, of whom 2,221 have developed AIDS, and 1,084 have died. The epidemic has a low-incidence classification and the prevalence of infected people ranging from 15 to 49 years old is 0.05 %, that is, the lowest rate in the Americas and one of the lowest in the world.
Training, social and work security, specialized medical care including antiretroviral and opportunistic disease treatments are achieved through a free-of-charge comprehensive health care program entitled to 100% of people suffering from HIV/AIDS. Likewise, an ever-increasing educational program is developed, which comprises sexual education in schools, educational actions for vulnerable groups, teenagers and general population, including a preventive strategy.
Prevention on perinatal transmission has also been implemented, to both mother and child, ensuring voluntary tests to every pregnant woman, antiretroviral treatment and other measures for female HIV seropositives, as recommended by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.
Cuba has also developed medical care programs for the poorest countries and for those having highest incidence of this disease, as a result of the experience acquired in the struggle against this pandemic.
We are deeply convinced that the struggle against HIV/AIDS demands strong international commitment based on a profound feeling of solidarity and cooperation. How could we possibly respond to more than 42 million people infected with HIV/AIDS by the end of 2002, a year when this disease cost more than 3 million lives? How could we struggle this pandemic that is spreading among those having the least capacity to fight it back?
Cuba reiterates its willingness to participate in an international joint effort to struggle HIV/AIDS. Such effort necessarily involves access to the required medication, as one of the fundamental elements to gradually achieve the full realization of every person's right to enjoy the highest possible standards of physical and mental health.
Cuba, as part of its contribution to the international struggle against this scourge, reiterates the offer made, in this same Hall, two years ago:
- Four thousand doctors and other health care workers to create the infrastructure needed to supply the drugs to the population, with the necessary prescriptions and follow-up. The same personnel could train and prepare a large number of specialists in their own fields, nurses and health care technicians, within the countries where they work.
- The professors needed to create 20 medical schools; many of them could be selected from the 2,359 Cuban doctors currently providing their services in 17 countries as part of the Comprehensive Health Care Program. These schools could train a thousand doctors a year in the countries that most need them.
- The doctors, educational specialists, psychologists and other specialists needed to provide advice and cooperation for campaigns to prevent AIDS and other diseases.
- The equipment and diagnostic kits needed for basic prevention programs.
- Antiretroviral treatment for 30,000 patients.
To implement this cooperation program, it would only be necessary for the international community to contribute the drugs, equipment, and material resources needed to this end. Cuba does no seek any profits at all, and would pay salaries in its own national currency; which is usually the most costly aspect for international health agencies, and the most difficult one: qualified individuals prepared to undertake such a mission.
Amid this uncertain horizon, some of us still harvest our dreams and hopes of a better world where a lasting, healthy and honorable life does not constitute a utopia. Let us struggle to change the destiny of millions of people that are fighting, in this minute, for their lives. Let us advocate for an equal and just world, where every man and woman has the right to be an actor of development. We are still on time.
Thank you very much.