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Kofi Annan discusses how AIDS can destroy entire societies ...
People are afraid to get tested, world leaders are afraid to mention condoms ...

World AIDS Day 2005
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As part of its World AIDS Day coverage, think MTV, along with KNOW HIV/AIDS — a public-education partnership of Viacom and Kaiser through Infinity Broadcasting — conducted an exclusive interview between MTV News correspondent John Norris and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the challenges of this global pandemic. Next year will mark 25 years since the deadly virus was first diagnosed, and a generation later the epidemic continues to infect 5 million people a year while claiming 3 million lives annually. There are an estimated 40 million people worldwide now living with some stage of HIV or AIDS.

John Norris: Secretary General, thank you so much for this time. It's quite an honor to have you here on the eve of World AIDS Day. I remember the fear and the uncertainty that was associated with this epidemic when it first broke in the 1980s, and I wonder if you could share what your own experience was like when you first heard about it.

Kofi Annan: You are absolutely right. There was almost a near panic. It was a disease that we didn't understand. Nobody had heard about it before. We couldn't really make any sense out of it, and there was no sense or idea as to how you treat it, how you deal with it. What are the dimensions of the disease? The pace of the infection and all that. So there was a real concern and a real panic. But as time went on and one discovered that the antiretroviral treatments could help and that HIV/AIDS did not mean a death sentence and that you can live with it, you can be treated and you can function, I think we let down our guard, but that was happening in this society. That was happening in rich societies. It was not happening in the poor countries. And up till today in a poor country, HIV/AIDS is a death sentence. And that is one of the most difficult parts of it when you visit hospitals in poor countries and a patient is lying there, young person in her twenties, looking you in the eye, knowing that, "Yes, I am living with HIV/AIDS. I also know that there is medication that can cure me, and if I had lived in a rich country or had the money, I would be cured. But because of my poverty and where I happen to be, I am condemned to death. Can you help me?" It's a tough situation to confront but you see it all the time.

MTV News RAW: Kofi Annan

Watch John Norris' exclusive interview with the U.N. Secretary-General on the devastating impact of AIDS and what you can do to help, only on Overdrive

Norris: As many people listening might be aware, one of the millennium development goals is reversing the spread of AIDS by the year 2015. Are you confident that that goal can be achieved?

Annan: Not if we proceed at the same pace. We need to really redouble our efforts to be able to achieve that. We need to be able to press leaders and people with responsibility to lead at all levels. I'm talking of leadership at all levels, from political leaders to people in communities and local levels. We need to be able to speak out openly about the disease and to remove the discrimination and the stigma that is attached to it. We need to be able to mobilize [all of] society to assist these people. We need to test. You know we are not today — about 90 percent of the people walking around with AIDS don't know they have it. But if they are not sure they will get assistance, they will get treatment; they will get care ... will they go and test? What happens if they find out they have it? Apart from their own personal trauma, how will society react to that? Are they going to be ostracized, victimized? In some cases their own family is standing away from them. So there's some real educational work here to be done.

Norris: You mentioned in your AIDS Day statement last week that in fact solving the AIDS problem might be a prerequisite to the other millennium development goals.

Annan: Oh absolutely. Absolutely. We have situations in certain African countries where life expectancy has dropped by about 20 years because of AIDS. In some countries life expectancy is about that age today. In those countries, you are losing farmers, healthy farmers. You are losing, as I said, teachers, doctors, security people, and you have serious droughts and you have a serious food-security situation. And therefore the society cannot even cope. It cannot cope. They are losing their experienced farmers, they are losing the mothers and the women who normally are the caregivers and know how to hold a family together in times of crises. So if you do not have the talents and you do not have the human resources to be able to produce your agricultural needs, to be able to care for your sick, to be able to educate your children in school, you are looking at a society that could be disintegrating. On what basis then do you move on to tackle the other seven goals?

Norris: MTV went on the air almost exactly two months after AIDS was first diagnosed. So the AIDS issue is a permanent part of MTV's history. In fact, many of our viewers tell us they first heard about this disease through MTV. What has it done to a generation of young people to grow up with this very real disease always there as a possibility?

Annan: I think MTV should be proud of the contribution it has made. Other channels came on a bit later, but you have made a real contribution in educating the young and it is important because when you look at the statistics there's a high proportion of the young getting infected today, particularly between 14, 15 to 24, 25, and that is really your age group, the age group your station touches most. And so one thing you've been able to do [is] raise awareness as part of the prevention, as part of the education, getting them to know how to be careful, how to look after themselves, and it is a very positive, preventive work here you have done.

Photo: Getty Images

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