The Azerbaijan State News Agency

AIDS: THE LOOMING THREAT TO EURASIA

While we are drawn to the news in neighboring countries of terrorist attacks and governmental change, the accelerating spread of the HIV virus worldwide threatens millions of people on all continents. Forty-two million people are already infected. An estimated 8,500 men, women and children die every day. That is eighteen more people by the time your finish reading this piece. Without concerted action, an additional 45 million will be infected by 2010, fueled by predicted epidemics in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, among other areas. Here in Azerbaijan, there are only 500 registered cases, but in other countries we have found additional cases of infected Azerbaijanis after deeper investigation.

HIV/ AIDS is not just a compelling humanitarian issue. It tears social fabrics and robs young democracies of the citizens they need to build freer, better futures. It deprives nations of the human resources they need to develop, sapping global growth. Unchecked, HIV/AIDS can threaten whole countries and destabilize entire regions. No nation is protected by geography or by political, social and religious association. Global trade, temporary work abroad, and tourism tie us together inextricable. We are all vulnerable.

Combating this disease is a national security priority for the United States. President Bush has committed the U.S. to provide $15 billion for an Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. We are working multilaterally through the UH, WHO and as the single-largest donor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. We are also working bilaterally in over 75 countries, including countries in Europe and Central Asia, to save lives by preventing new infections and helping communities cope with the existing burden of disease. Europe has joined us in this fight, as evidenced by Europe governments’ own efforts and their generous contributions to the Global Fund. In Azerbaijan, the US is attacking the problem of HIV-AIDS through various USAID programs that target training of health care professional and educational and information outreach in communities throughout Azerbaijan. Yet more can be done. We must all work ever more closely together and enlist non-government actors and the private sector. We must use our limited resources effectively and with compassion. And we must not be complacent about the fight against AIDS on our own continents.

Like all great evils, AIDS feeds on ignorance and fear. Experience has shown that when government and social leaders speak out and support programs to educate people on the dangers of HIV/ AIDS, the disease can be controlled. The time to speak out is now, while we still have time to educate and prevent AIDS’ devastation to our societies, our economics and our lives.

Reno L. Harnish

U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan

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