Statement by Prof. Dr. Serhat Ünal, Special Representative of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey, at the High-Level Meeting on a Comprehensive Review of the Progress Achieved in Realizing the Declaration of the Commitment on HIV/AIDS and the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS

Serhat Ünal 11.06.2008
H.E. President Srgjan Kerim,
H.E. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon,
Esteemed Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to convey, at the outset, my distinct pleasure and honor in addressing this impressive gathering of senior statesmen, policy-makers, experts, scientists, academicians, industry representatives, political observers and civil society representatives in my capacity as the Special Representative of the Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan.

My Prime Minister was very much looking forward to attending this landmark meeting. He has unfortunately been held back by other matters of pressing urgency and therefore asked me, as an expert on the front-line so to speak, to represent him before you as his special envoy.

HIV/AIDS is not only a health issue, but a matter of human security. As such, the fight against the pandemic is very much part of the global efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and thus to defeat poverty, to ensure gender equality, to prevent discrimination and to secure the universal application of human rights.

Turkey has a population of 70 million people. Geographically, it is located between different regions where the HIV/AIDS levels are increasing.

According to the figures provided by the Turkish Ministry of Health, the number of HIV-positive cases, as of November 2007, is 2.920. Male patients constitute approximately 70 % of this total.

Although we have a relatively small number of HIV-positive cases, we are concerned that the following factors could have the potential to contribute to an increase in this number; the young population of Turkey (15-49 age groups), the general lack of awareness of sexually-transmitted diseases, the rise in intravenous drug usage, the influx of commercial sex workers and the high number of Turkish men working abroad. So, we too have to be vigilant.

In 1985, with the diagnosis of the first case in the country, a comprehensive reporting system was established, including a coding system for HIV/AIDS. We have an important range of preventive measures in place. HIV testing and treatment is free of charge. Serological testing for blood/tissue/organ donors, registered sex workers and patients who undergo major surgical operations are mandatory. In 1996, the "National AIDS Commission" was established in order to carry out country-wide activities. The Commission continues to work on the issue with 35 representatives from state institutions, universities, NGOs and the United Nations system.

The current National Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS lays out our national strategies from 2007 to 2011 to enhance our activities in the fields of prevention and support, voluntary counselling and testing, diagnosis and treatment, supportive environment, monitoring and evaluation, social support and intersectoral collaboration.

There is no problem in Turkey with respect to diagnosis and treatment of HIV/AIDS patients. We have achieved universal access for more than 90 percent of patients. Nevertheless there are remaining challenges; such as insufficient preventive services for vulnerable groups, increasing number of unregistered commercial sex workers, intravenous drug users, and high treatment costs.

Our domestic efforts, I believe, are therefore quite sufficient and satisfactory, given the low incidence rate of HIV/AIDS cases. However, we realize that we should exert more efforts to maintain solidarity and cooperation with those countries less fortunate than ourselves, both in terms of economic capability and burden of HIV/AIDS.

The total amount of Turkish humanitarian assistance since 2005 has exceeded 250 million US Dollars. In addition to this, the combined official and private sector development assistance provided by Turkey in 2006 amounted to 1.7 billion US Dollars. While official figures for 2007 have not yet been published, our combined official and private sector development assistance is expected to be around 2.5 billion US Dollars.

It is evident that Turkey needs to channel a portion of this aid to the global fight against HIV/AIDS. We need to review our existing foreign aid programmes, so that we can also assist the countries which are facing the threat of HIV/AIDS. I want to assure you that we will look into our programmes once again with this priority in mind.

In this regard, we are grateful to the Secretary-General for his recent report. We also thank the Commission on HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa for its report "Securing our Future". Both reports constitute a road map which we should all follow, if the danger of HIV/AIDS is to be contained and then eradicated. At the same time, we must also respond to the hopes and expectations of all the patiens by providing effective treatment.

I would like to thank everyone who took part in the organization of this important and timely meeting. The high level participation is indeed a tangible proof of our determination to cope with this immense challenge.

Thank you.