UNITED NATIONS, June 10 (Xinhua) -- The battle against HIV/AIDS is not just a question of public health, but also critical to making progress on such issues as improving access to education, achieving gender equality and eradicating poverty and hunger, UN General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim said Tuesday.
Speaking at the opening of the Assembly's two-day high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS, Kerim called for greater leadership at all levels to combat the epidemic, according to a UN press release.
Kerim said government leaders, UN 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.
World leaders have previously agreed to try to obtain universal access to prevention, care, treatment and support by 2010.
The latest report on the issue from UN 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.
Kerim said "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."
He 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.
At a separate press conference Tuesday, Kerim emphasized it was important to remember 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, according to UN statistics.