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Message of the Director-General of UNESCO on the occasion of World AIDS Day 2002 (1st December 2002)

30-11-2002 - HIV/AIDS condemns its victims to a double sentence. The first is the one caused by the illness, and in the vast majority of cases today it is a sentence of death. The second is caused by other people, and is the sentence of stigma and discrimination, which are dehumanizing not only to those who are subjected to it but also to those who inflict it. This second sentence fuels the epidemic by thwarting prevention efforts. It dramatically aggravates the precariousness of people who are ill or infected. It tears apart families and corrodes the bonds that hold communities together. It excludes children from hope and support and denies them the opportunity to go to school. It spreads out from the victims to their families – parents and children – and to neighbours, fellow workers and the community as a whole. It is a blight on human rights.

This year, the theme of the World AIDS Campaign is “Live and let live” – a plea for understanding, an appeal for common humanity and a cry for breaking the silence around HIV/AIDS. Stigma and discrimination feed on fear and ignorance, and thrive where protection of human rights is weak. The weapons to fight stigma and discrimination are known. They include working to change attitudes and behaviour, on the one hand, and providing the environment and governance structure that limit their impact, on the other. Fighting stigma and discrimination through mechanisms of law, government and policy is very important, but not enough. Educating people is at the heart of real success, resulting in a change of attitudes and behaviours.

Education is a tool for combatting stigma and discrimination and for slowing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Learning the facts about HIV/AIDS is the vital first step towards reinforcing attitudes of respect, care and support as well as active prevention behaviours. UNESCO, with other UN partners, is deeply committed to the achievement of Education for All (EFA). Basic education for everyone is the foundation of education’s role in the struggle against HIV/AIDS: all over the world, those who are educated are less likely to become infected and more likely to be active participants in the battle against the disease. In the age of HIV/AIDS, ignorance is life-threatening. Learning about HIV/AIDS, therefore, must be an essential element of education today, and needs to be promoted everywhere.

Within the UN system, UNESCO has a special responsibility for and commitment to HIV/AIDS preventive education. It focuses on five tasks: (i) advocacy at all levels; (ii) adapting the message to the context; (iii) tackling both risk and vulnerability; (iv) caring for the infected and affected; and (v) preserving the capacity of educational systems to cope. This framework guides us in our policy advice to governments, our action in countries in partnership with officials, NGOs and other development organizations, and our research and monitoring efforts.

Let there be no mistake: progress towards achieving agreed development goals depends on success in dealing with the spread of HIV/AIDS. Our humanity is challenged by this epidemic, the most devastating in recorded history, and we will be judged by our response.

Source Office of the Spokesperson





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