10 June 2008The battle against HIV/AIDS is not just a public health question, but also critical to making progress on such issues as improving access to education, achieving gender equality and eradicating poverty and hunger, General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim said today, calling for greater leadership at all levels to combat the epidemic. Speaking at the opening of the Assembly’s two-day high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS, Mr. Kerim said Government leaders, United Nations officials and civil society members all need to take steps to make universal access to prevention, care, treatment and support a reality.He said strong leadership was particularly necessary to ensuring better national health-care systems and more streamlined action plans to fight the disease.“Experience has demonstrated that courageous leadership at the forefront of prevention efforts contributes to a reduction in the rates of infection,” he said.“Leadership can ensure that adequate resources are allocated to HIV prevention, treatment and care and that those resources are spent prudently. Leadership also ensures that those made vulnerable by the disease are also protected.”World leaders have previously agreed to try to obtain universal access to prevention, care, treatment and support by 2010 and the latest report on the issue from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says important progress has been made, although too many people are still dying from the disease, becoming newly infected or not receiving anti-retroviral treatment.Mr. Kerim said the progress so far, while welcome, “is not nearly fast enough. [And] the failure to make sufficient progress? profoundly impacts all aspects of human development.“The HIV/AIDS pandemic is not only a major public heath issue. It is also a major cause of what we now refer to as a development emergency.”The Assembly President noted that, for example, the world cannot make progress on its stated goal to achieve universal primary education when in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa more teachers are dying of AIDS than are being trained to teach.The fight against AIDS is also linked to climate change, sustainable development, the empowerment of women and efforts to curtail extreme poverty and hunger, he said.In a separate press conference today, Mr. Kerim told journalists that the significance of this week’s high-level meeting – being held at UN Headquarters in New York – was illustrated by the fact that more than 150 Member States had requested to participate.He also said it was important to remember that the discussion is more than academic for the estimated 33.2 million people worldwide living with HIV. Last year alone, some 2.5 million people became newly infected with HIV and 2.1 million AIDS-related deaths occurred.