Closing Address at the 13th International AIDS Conference – 2000

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Durban 14 July 2000

To have
been asked to deliver the closing address at this conference which in a very
literal sense concerns itself with matters of life and death, weighs heavily
upon me for the gravity of the responsibility placed on one.

disrespect is intended towards the many other occasions where one has been
privileged to speak, if I say that this is the one event where every word
uttered, every gesture made, had to be measured against the effect it can and
will have on the lives of millions of concrete, real human beings all over this
continent and planet. This is not an academic conference. This is, as I
understand it, a gathering of human beings concerned about turning around one
of the greatest threats humankind has faced, and certainly the greatest after
the end of the great wars of the previous century.

It is
never my custom to use words lightly. If twenty-seven years in prison have done
anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how
precious words are and how real speech is in its impact upon the way people
live or die.

If by way
of introduction I stress the importance of the way we speak, it is also because
so much unnecessary attention around this conference had been directed towards
a dispute that is unintentionally distracting from the real life and death
issues we are confronted with as a country, a region, a continent and a world.

I do not
know nearly enough about science and its methodologies or about the politics of
science and scientific practice to even wish to start contributing to the
debate that has been raging on the perimeters of this conference.

I am,
however, old enough and have gone through sufficient conflicts and disputes in
my life-time to know that in all disputes a point is arrived at where no party,
no matter how right or wrong it might have been at the start of that dispute,
will any longer be totally in the right or totally in the wrong. Such a point,
I believe, has been reached in this debate.

President of this country is a man of great intellect who takes scientific
thinking very seriously and he leads a government that I know to be committed
to those principles of science and reason.

scientific community of this country, I also know, holds dearly to the principle
of freedom of scientific enquiry, unencumbered by undue political interference
in and direction of science.

however, the ordinary people of the continent and the world -and particularly
the poor who on our continent, will again carry a disproportionate burden of
this scourge – would, if anybody cared to ask their opinions, wish that the
dispute about the primacy of politics or science be put on the backburner and
that we proceed to address the needs and concerns of those suffering and dying.
And this can only be done in partnership.

I come
from a long tradition of collective leadership, consultative decision-making
and joint action towards the common good. We have overcome much that many
thought insurmountable through an adherence to those practices. In the face of
the grave threat posed by HIV/Aids, we have to rise above our differences and
combine our efforts to save our people. History will judge us harshly if we
fail to do so now, and right now.

Let us not
equivocate: a tragedy of unprecedented proportions is unfolding in Africa. AIDS
today in Africa is claiming more lives than the sum total of all wars, famines
and floods, and the ravages of such deadly diseases as malaria. It is
devastating families and communities; overwhelming and depleting health care
services; and robbing schools of both students and teachers.

has suffered, or will suffer, losses of personnel, productivity and profits;
economic growth is being undermined and scarce development resources have to be
diverted to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.

is having a devastating impact on families, communities, societies and
economies. Decades have been chopped from life expectancy and young child
mortality is expected to more than double in the most severely affected
countries of Africa. Aids is clearly a disaster, effectively wiping out the
development gains of the past decades and sabotaging the future.

this week we were shocked to learn that within South Africa 1 in 2, that is
half, of our young people will die of AIDS. The most frightening thing is that
all of these infections which statistics tell us about, and the attendant human
suffering, could have been, can be, prevented.

must be done as a matter of the greatest urgency. And with nearly two decades
of dealing with the epidemic, we now do have some experience of what works.

experience in a number of countries has taught that HIV infection can be
prevented through investing in information and life skills development for
young people. Promoting abstinence, safe sex and the use of condoms and
ensuring the early treatment of sexually transmitted diseases are some of the
steps needed and about which there can be no dispute. Ensuring that people
especially the young, have access to voluntary and confidential HIV counselling
and testing services and introducing measures to reduce mother-to-child
transmission have been proven to be essential in the fight against AIDS. We
have recognised the importance of addressing the stigmatisation and
discrimination, and of providing safe and supportive environments for people
affected by HIV/AIDS.

experiences of Uganda, Senegal and Thailand have shown that serious investments
in and mobilisation around these actions make a real difference. Stigma and
discrimination can be stopped; new infections can be prevented; and the
capacity of families and communities to care for people living with HIV and
AIDS can be enhanced.

It is not,
I must add, as if the South African government has not moved significantly on
many of these areas. It was the first deputy president in my government that
oversaw and drove the initiatives in this regard, and as President continues to
place this issue on top of the national and continental agenda. He will with me
be the first to concede that much more remains to be done. I do not doubt for
one moment that he will proceed to tackle this task with the resolve and
dedication he is known for.

challenge is to move from rhetoric to action, and action at an unprecedented intensity
and scale. There is a need for us to focus on what we know works.

We need to break the silence,
banish stigma and discrimination, and ensure total inclusiveness within
the struggle against AIDS; We need bold initiatives to
prevent new infections among young people, and large-scale actions to
prevent mother-to-child transmission, and at the same time we need to
continue the international effort of searching for appropriate vaccines; We need to aggressively treat
opportunistic infections; and We need to work with families
and communities to care for children and young people to protect them from
violence and abuse, and to ensure that they grow up in a safe and
supportive environment.

For this
there is need for us to be focused, to be strategic, and to mobilise all of our
resources and alliances, and to sustain the effort until this war is won.

We need,
and there is increasing evidence of, African resolve to fight this war. Others
will not save us if we do not primarily commit ourselves. Let us, however, not
underestimate the resources required to conduct this battle. Partnership with
the international community is vital. A constant theme in all our messages has
been that in this inter-dependent and globalised world, we have indeed again
become the keepers of our brother and sister. That cannot be more graphically
the case than in the common fight against HIV/Aids.

As one
small contribution to the great combined effort that is required, I have
instructed my Foundation to explore in consultation with others the best way in
which we can be involved in the battle against this terrible scourge ravaging
our continent and world.

I thank
all of you most sincerely for your involvement in that struggle. Let us combine
our efforts to ensure a future for our children. The challenge is no less.

I thank

Tuesday 14 June 2011 17:23

“Something must be done as a matter of the greatest urgency. And with nearly two decades of dealing with the epidemic, we now do have some experience of what works”