AsiaPacific faces AIDS catastrophe unless urgent action is taken now – UN

“The AIDS menace threatens to take a massive human toll in the region and jeopardizes efforts to achieve the UN Millennium Goal of cutting extreme poverty by half by 2015,” Asian Development Bank (ADB) Vice-President Geert van der Linden said of the study, which warns that the region is at a “make-or-break” stage in the fight against the disease. The report, “Asia Pacific’s Opportunity: Investing to Avert an HIV/AIDS Crisis,” released by the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the ADB, warns that if prompt action is not taken the economic costs of the virus could rise to $17.5 billion annually by 2010, with millions more people thrown into poverty. It comes two days after UNAIDS released its 2004 Global Report showing that last year’s infection rate was the highest ever. “Governments in Asia and the Pacific can still avert a massive increase in infections and deaths, limit economic losses and save millions of people from poverty if they are willing to finance comprehensive AIDS programmes,” UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said. “The role of political leadership is more critical at this point than ever before.” More than 7 million people are already living with HIV in Asia and the Pacific, with hundreds of thousands dying each year. Economic losses totalled $7.3 billion in 2001. The report stresses that regional leaders must give top priority to ending the enormous – and increasing – shortfall in finances required for comprehensive prevention and care. Resources needed to fight the disease are expected to reach $5.1 billion annually between 2007 and 1010, it says. But in 2003, when the region needed $1.5 billion, only $200 million was available from public sector sources, governments and donors combined. read more

UN General Assembly spotlights need to boost regional digital connectivity

Vuk Jeremic said that information and communication technologies (ICT) can contribute to the eight anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and a sustainable development agenda to follow after 2015.As such, he urged Governments to continue working in public-private partnership to expand broadband infrastructure in the developing world, and stimulate efforts to provide local content and develop regionally-appropriate software applications.“One-fifth of all households in developing countries are now hooked up to the internet – up from 13 per cent just three years ago,” Mr. Jeremic told a panel entitled ‘Improving connectivity in Eurasia,’ organized by Azerbaijan.“This is a significant achievement, but much more needs to be done in order to overcome the digital divide with the developed world, where 78 per cent of homes are linked to the internet – many through affordable and reliable broadband networks,” the GA President noted.Ahead of the panel discussion, the Assembly held a plenary meeting where it adopted a resolution by which the world body invites UN Member States to explore ways to support the proposal by Azerbaijan to establish the Eurasian Connectivity Alliance with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).The aim will be to promote the development of telecommunication transit routes in the region and improving the coordination between the Governments, private sector, civil society and international development institutions.In his remarks to the panel discussion, Mr. Jeremic, said ICTs “can help establish a more level playing field, expediting the integration of developing countries into the global economy – especially the LDCs [least developed countries], nations with few natural resources, and post-conflict countries.” He added that ICTs can also increase opportunities for education and professional training, contribute to delivery of healthcare and other essential services and assist with business and technical fields. “Technology has never been an end in itself, but a means—an opportunity—to improve the human condition, when put to good use,” the Assembly President said. The UN is currently amidst 1,000 days of accelerated action to reach the targets set by the MDGs, including making more widely available the benefits of new technologies, especially ICTs.Later this month, the General Assembly will host a high-level special event to follow up on those efforts. In today’s meeting, the 193-member GA is expected to act on resolution on support for establishing a Eurasian Connectivity Alliance with the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for improving the development of “regional telecommunications transit routes.” read more