I am particularly happy to be speaking at the Medical Centre because I too was once a medical student. I graduated from medical school in Belgium just over 30 years ago. And thinking about these three decades makes me realize afresh just how profoundly AIDS has affected the world, particularly the worlds of health, medicine and development. Thirty years ago AIDS and HIV were unknown – even these words did not exist! Thirty years ago my professors and fellow students told me that there was no future in specializing in infectious diseases. And yet today, in the space of just these years, AIDS has become the worst epidemic in history and there is serious worldwide concern about the threat posed by infectious diseases.
Today, I think that the stars are getting into the right alignment with our signing this memorandum of understanding. Yes, one could be cynical and say that the Bank signs quite a few MOUs, with all kinds of organizations. But it coincides with the fact that funding is available for programmes as tomorrow Sweden and the Bank will sign an agreement providing specific funding for AIDS. And then there is the Bank’s AIDS strategy, which I understand will be discussed soon. And the Bank and UNAIDS have also worked together on developing the evidence base of the impact AIDS is having on social and economic development in Asia and the Pacific. So there is definitely strong will from both sides to work together, from the ADB and from us inside the UN Country Team system.
Religious organizations have a long history of activism on social justice issues, and you have standing to speak the world about the moral challenges of our time, including AIDS. Your organizations are also among the biggest service providers in the global AIDS response, delivering a substantial share of AIDS related care in many of the most heavily affected countries.
I am sure that this year will be remembered as one of the most significant in the history of the epidemic. For the first time, the global perspective joins care for those infected to the task of ensuring those not infected remain so. It is a year when resources are coming, and when political leadership is at unprecedented levels. The UN General Assembly Special Session on AIDS will be one of its high points.
The landscape of the fight against AIDS has been transformed in the past 15 months since I last spoke here, on the eve of World Aids Day in 2004. Issues that were gathering momentum then have come to fruition, so I now look at 2005 as the ‘least bad’ year in the history of AIDS. It was a year when hope slowly took over from pure despair in many communities; things that seemed impossible even a few years ago started to become real in 2005.