Dili, 3 April 2002


UN Transitional Administrator Sergio Vieira de Mello and East Timor’s Vice Minister for Health, João Martins, launched today a national campaign to raise public awareness on HIV/AIDS and help prevent the kind of epidemic that has crippled other developing nations.

Martins said his ministry’s preliminary estimate on the rate of HIV infection in East Timor is 0.64 percent of people of reproductive age. By comparison, regional countries Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar have HIV rates of more than 1 percent, according to UNAIDS.

While East Timor has so far avoided an epidemic, both Vieira de Mello and Martins warned that several social factors might exacerbate the spread of HIV in the soon-to-be-independent nation: massive social dislocation; cross-border migration; high unemployment; illiteracy among the rural population; and low awareness about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

“The United Nations, in partnership with the East Timorese transitional government, is fully committed to develop necessary programmes to address the causes and consequences of HIV infection in East Timor,” said Vieira de Mello, the Special Representative of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

“Indeed, East Timor has a unique opportunity to prevent an epidemic of HIV/AIDS, but only if all the key stakeholders act together in a coordinated manner. This is the only way to make sure that this epidemic – which is already ravaging other parts of Southeast Asia – will not take a strong hold in East Timor,” he added.

The campaign – spearheaded by UNTAET’s Office of Communications and Public Information and the Ministry of Health – employs UNTAET’s television, radio and publications units to promote general awareness on how to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

It will also promote ongoing HIV/AIDS-related initiatives by the government, UN agencies and NGOs. A national HIV/AIDS working group has been set up and is advising the government on HIV/AIDS-related matters. The Ministry has also already initiated priority, short-term interventions among marginalized youth and sex workers. The stakeholders are now working on an HIV testing and counselling policy; a national HIV/AIDS situation assessment; and a national strategic plan. Also, a National AIDS Conference has been planned for 29-30 April.

Both the Vice-Minister and Vieira de Mello applauded the Catholic Church for its cooperation in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The influential church has established a programme to raise HIV/AIDS awareness through health clinics run by the international NGO Caritas.