Address by President Nelson Mandela at the World Economic Forum Session on AIDS

3 February 1997

Mr Chairperson;
Honourable Ministers;
Your Excellencies
Distinguished delegates and guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

I feel greatly honoured to be invited to address you today on a matter that so deeply affects the whole world.

Although HIV/AIDS has been with us through the 1980's and 90's, it is a problem whose solution continues to elude us. We have made progress in understanding the epidemic. But we are still unable to contain its spread.

The AIDS pandemic is getting worse at a rate that makes a collective global effort imperative. When the history of our time is written, it will record the collective efforts of societies responding to a threat that has put in the balance the future of whole nations. Future generations will judge us on the adequacy of our response.

In many ways South Africa's past - as that of most colonial societies - remains with us today, not least in the social dimensions of the unfolding AIDS epidemic. The poor; the vulnerable; the unschooled; the socially marginalised; the women and the children; those who bear the burden of colonial legacy - these are the sectors of society which bear the burden of AIDS.

We are concerned at the discrimination and stigmatisation directed at people living with this virus and, in many instances, their families as well.

Beyond the enormous suffering of individuals and families, South Africans are beginning to understand the cost in every sphere of society, observing with growing dismay its impact on the efforts of our new democracy to achieve the goals of reconstruction and development.

South Africa is confident that it is making headway in implementing its macroeconomic strategy for growth, employment and redistribution. All the signs point to a sound send of economic fundamentals; to our being on track; and to a national consensus on policy that will see us reach our targets of economic growth and job-creation.

Four own development takes place within, and is boosted by, the framework of increasingly integrated development across Southern Africa, as our region acts to fulfill a long-cherished dream of co-operation for peace and prosperity.

And yet, while South and Southern Africa can take pride in these achievements, we do know that the great and urgent needs of our people would be more easily met were it not for diseases like AIDS.

It is anticipated that if current trends continue then AIDS will cost South Africa one percent of our GDP by the year 2005; and that up to three quarters of our health budget will be consumed by direct health costs relating to HIV/AIDS. Even creative low cost alternatives to hospital care will leave us with a significant impact on our health care budget.

Though the details may vary from country to country, this experience is one we share with the world. No country can avoid this disease. The challenge is to seek ways to minimise its effects, to prepare for its impact and to co-operate for long-term solutions.

How will we address child mortality rates which are set to increase threefold in Africa?

With 6 000 new infections occurring every day throughout the world; with 22 million men, women and children infected; with 6 million people estimated to have died; and with 9 million children under the age of 15 having lost their mothers to AIDS, there can be no doubt that humanity faces a major challenge.

The severity of the economic impact of the disease is directly related to the fact that most infected persons are in the peak productive and reproductive age groups. AIDS kills those on whom society relies to grow the crops, work in the mines and factories, run the schools and hospitals and govern nations and countries, thus increasing the number of dependent persons. It creates new pockets of poverty when parents and breadwinners die and children leave school earlier to support the remaining children.

The epidemic is fuelled by other evils which afflict our world - open conflict and low-intensity war cause population movements and social dislocation which promote the spread of infection.

With cruel irony, even our achievements in improving communication networks and transportation systems, and the building of regional economic blocs, influence the attitudes and behavior patterns of people in ways that sometimes accelerate the spread of the disease.

These are well-known facts. If we recall them now it is to underline the scale and the multifaceted nature of the problem. The health sector cannot meet this challenge on its own. Nor can government.

All sectors and all spheres of society have to be involved as equal partners. We have to join hands to develop programmes and share information and research that will halt the spread of this disease and help develop support networks for those who are affected.

By 1985 the global community had recognised the need for a multi-sectoral response and had endorsed a structure to support such an expanded response by all countries. The Joint United Nations Programmes, UNAIDS, recognises that, in the longer term, it will be community development, employment and wealth creation, literacy programmes, promotion of equality between men and women and the protection of human rights which will address the underlying conditions and the consequences.

In general the responses by individual countries to date has fallen short of what is needed. In some cases political commitment has been lacking, in others resources have been limited. Frequently even essential services are non-existent.

Conscious of our own need to put the effort to combat AIDS on a higher plane, South Africa's National AIDS Programme has made the call for "A New Struggle".

The vision which fuelled our struggle for freedom; the deployment of energies and resources; the unity and commitment to common goals - all these are needed if we are to bring AIDS under control.

South Africans achieved victory in their struggle for freedom, thanks to the solidarity of the international community and its commitment to justice. As the freedom of each nation in interdependent with that of others, so too is the health and well-being of their peoples. Now here is this more true than in the case of AIDS.

The challenge of AIDS can be overcome if we work together as a global community. Let us join hands in a caring partnership for health and prosperity as we enter the new millennium.

With these few words, may I thank you for affording me the opportunity to address you. I wish you every success as you seek ways to promote co-operative action.

I thank you!

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation