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New partnerships in the fight Against HIV/AIDS in the Asia Pacific.

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22 February 2006

New Partnerships in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS in the Asia Pacific

Speech by The Hon Alexander Downer MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs at the AusAID-Clinton Foundation MOU signing and launch of Asia Pacific Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS in Sydney on 22 February 2006

Mr President Mr Lowy Ms Jackson Ladies and gentlemen

Today marks an unprecedented acceleration in the Australian response to the continued spread of HIV in the Asia Pacific region.

We are formalising a new partnership with the Clinton Foundation which will strengthen the capacity of regional governments to scale up treatment for HIV.

And second, some of the nation's most senior business people are launching a new coalition which will marshal the great expertise of the corporate sector to the battle against the HIV pandemic.

I cannot emphasise enough how crucial new partnerships are to our chances of success in the fight against AIDS.

Despite all that we have done so far, the growth of the epidemic continues to outpace our efforts to contain it.

HIV/AIDS is silent and deadly:

z it slowly picks away at the threads that hold together the fabric of vulnerable societies

z as people's lives unravel there are adverse economic effects at the community level

z adverse effects that eventually manifest at the regional, national and international levels.

Once the epidemic reaches those kinds of proportions, it threatens the region's security and economic prospects.

And in the Asia Pacific - our own region - that reality is not far away.

Our latest estimate is that more than eight million people are living with HIV in the Asia Pacific region.

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According to a study by the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations, this figure could reach close to 20 million by the end of this decade.

Research commissioned by the Australian Government's overseas aid agency, AusAID, estimates that more than 60,000 people, or one per cent of the entire population of Papua New Guinea, is already infected with HIV.

The research goes on to predict that, if the current approach remains the same, there will be more than half a million people with HIV in Papua New Guinea by the year 2025

Already we see more than 60 per cent of hospital beds in Port Moresby are taken by HIV patients

And, under the same scenario, another two million people could be living with the disease in Indonesia by the year 2025.

The World Bank has concluded that if current infection trends continue, HIV/AIDS will halt and then begin to reverse Asia's economic growth.

That is no idle forecast.

We have seen it happen in a number of African countries where the pandemic has wiped out decades of development gains

In the Asia Pacific, where Australia does so much business, the impact on development gains and the economic losses caused by HIV/AIDS cannot be under-estimated.

It will affect us all.

How much of a threat, then, is HIV/AIDS to the very source of our business success in recent years - the sustained growth of our markets in the Asia Pacific?

In economic - or business - terms, it is a big threat. And there is hard data to show why.

For example, I referred to the ADB/UN study and analysis. It estimates that economic losses from HIV/AIDS in Asia Pacific for the year 2001 amounted to US$ 7.3 billion, or 10-billion Australian dollars.

Looking just a few years ahead, the same study projected that by the year 2010, the end of the decade, if we were unsuccessful in slowing the pace of HIV.

Annual financial losses would reach US$ 17.5 billion, which is nearly 24 billion Australian dollars.

On the other hand, the study showed that there would be annual savings of nearly US$ eight billion if $US five billion were to be invested over the next four years - until the year 2010 - which is an outlay equivalent to just four per cent of current regional health expenditure, or 0.2 per cent of regional GNP.

And there are other practical, bottom-line reasons why Australian business could not afford to become involved, which Margaret (Jackson) will talk about in a minute.

The good news is that HIV/AIDS has not declared victory in the Asia Pacific: its quiet but deadly march can be reversed.

I would like to talk briefly now about what the Government is currently doing to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Eighteen months ago, I announced a significant increase in Australia's contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS in the region:

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z through the aid program, the Australian Government is committing $600 million in assistance to

HIV/AIDS activities in the decade to 2010: z most of this support is directed to activities in the Asia Pacific by way of bilateral assistance.

Clearly, the Australian Government is already investing heavily in the battle against HIV.

But if we are to deepen and strengthen the Australian response, we must look for new opportunities and partnerships to build on what has been achieved.

Our partnership with the Clinton Foundation will build on the Foundation's impressive track record to provide practical assistance with procurement, supply chains and health system strengthening.

At this point I would like to acknowledge the driving force behind the Clinton Foundation - our guest of honour, President Clinton.

The Foundation will work with partner governments in Papua New Guinea, Vietnam and China, to support the provision of anti-retroviral treatment, in association with AusAID-funded projects.

But government and organisations such as the Clinton Foundation can only take the fight so far. A successful battle against HIV needs the energy and perseverance of all components of society, private and public.

To this end, we must signal to the region's political and business leaders that preventing the spread of the pandemic requires a sustained public-private partnership.

In October last year I hosted a luncheon for senior Australian business leaders with Professor Richard Feachem, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. There was a tremendous turnout.

We discussed why HIV/AIDS is an important issue for business and through AusAID's partnership with the Lowy Institute, Australian business has now committed to some practical steps to take this forward, as Margaret will shortly announce in detail.

In the meantime, I would like to take this opportunity to confirm the formal launch of what is to be known as the Asia Pacific Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS.

In doing so, I would like to express the Government's gratitude to Frank Lowy and the Lowy Institute and extend warm congratulations to Margaret and her colleagues.

And finally, ladies and gentleman, it is both a pleasure and an honour to invite Margaret Jackson to address you.

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