Address by Foreign Minister Urmas Paet at the United Nations Millennium Development Goals High Level Event on Africa’s Development Needs
Africa’s development needs: state of implementation of various commitments, challenges and the way forward
Mr Chairman, Secretary General,
Excellencies, honoured guests,
Last year General Assembly decided that it is in our outmost interest to continue discussions about the challenges facing Africa and requested a comprehensive report on Africa’s development needs. Today, together with civil society and the UN, we have once more an opportunity to talk about how to address the challenges and renew our commitments to Africa’s development.
Since 1998 the development co-operation sector has been an increasingly important foreign policy instrument for Estonia. Estonia has steadily increased its share and intends to advance its status and role among other international donors. Estonia has not yet any bilateral programmes in Africa. However, through the EU and voluntary contributions and several United Nations agencies, Estonia has rendered assistance to the countries in Africa inflicted by natural disasters or armed conflicts.
Among all challenges facing Africa today I would like to refer to the two key priorities: education and the fight against AIDS.
The most sustainable and long-term investment in the growth of opportunities for people and development of the society is to increase the availability of education. However, as the action plan of the First Decade states, the essence of the education has not been recognized. To achieve the bold commitments of the second action plan, like raising educational achievement and attaining full gender equality in primary and secondary education, the international community should fulfil its commitments. By using the full range of bilateral and multilateral instruments we have to ensure that education in countries experiencing fragility and in countries with low-level donor involvement are adequately supported.
High priority must be given to setting up strong national statistical systems for tracking progress towards the education goals. Estonia sees great benefit in closer cooperation between countries to share best practices and learn from each other to design and implement holistic education sector plans for achieving the MDGs.
Second important subject is the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Already in 2000 African Governments expressed their commitment to making the fight against HIV/AIDS a top priority of national development when signing the Abuja Declaration. And today we can say there have been positive developments. Most of the African countries have set up national authorities and have introduced a strategic framework of action, but still they are lagging behind the objective. However, as was also emphasised at the 2008 high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS in New York, the preparations of which my government together with the government of Botswana helped to organise, it’s critical to avoid the complacency resulting from recent successes – AIDS is still the leading cause of death in Africa. The number of people living with AIDS in Africa in 2007 was estimated to be between 21 and 24 million. Every year, there are an estimated 1.7 million new infections – the epidemic continues to outpace the response. In 2007 for every two people receiving antiretroviral therapy, five new HIV infections occurred. Based also on the experience of my own country the long-term success in the AIDS response requires beside effective treatment and care enormous efforts in the HIV prevention, especially among young people.
Finally I would like to stress that an effective long term response requires services that are available to those most at risk and vulnerable. The challenge is to reach all of these groups, starting with being courageous enough to admit their existence. As Secretary General stated at the high level meeting in June, we must overcome the lack of political will to deal with the most vulnerable. Targeting the populations and settings where HIV transmission most frequently occurs is also most cost-effective. Additionally, the increasing prevalence of HIV among women, in some regions already exceeding that among men, reaffirms the need to reduce gender inequalities which are a key factor increasing women’s vulnerability to AIDS, including by ensuring access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health services and combating gender based violence.