U.N. Round-Up

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon March 28 urged leaders meeting at the Summit of the League of Arab States to re-affirm their commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative, which he called one of the pillars of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, while stressing that the world must build on the “new stirrings of potential” to resolve the long-running conflict in the Middle East. Ban used his address to the opening of the summit, taking place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to underline the need for renewed efforts by Arab nations to resolve the region’s other crises, from Somalia and Sudan’s Darfur region to Lebanon and Iraq. He said he saw positive signs in the formation of a Palestinian National Unity Government and the prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, adding that the Arab Peace Initiative, a plan adopted during the Beirut Arab Summit in March 2002, “suggests a new way forward for the region” after decades of division over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The UN has endorsed male circumcision as a way to prevent HIV infections in heterosexual men and said it should be made more easily available in African countries. Two U.N. agencies, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS, backed recent research showing that removing the foreskin of the penis can more than halve men’s vulnerability to the virus causing AIDS from having sex with HIV-infected women. They said that countries with high rates of heterosexual HIV should urgently improve access to male circumcision, giving priority to sexually active young men, while continuing to promote condom use and encourage regular testing.

Several organizations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, are considering funding a stockpile of bird-flu vaccine as one possible way to ensure access for people in developing countries most at risk of dying from the disease. The idea of creating a global vaccine stockpile has come to the forefront at a meeting that the WHO has called in Jakarta. Indonesia’s government had decided to withhold sharing its samples of the avian-flu virus. WHO is also approaching the Geneva-based GAVI Alliance, a nonprofit group that operates with funding from various governments and the Gates Foundation and that has already allocated nearly USD 2 billion toward the purchase of various vaccines.

The new UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Jon Holmes warned Sunday that humanitarian efforts in Darfur could collapse if the situation deteriorates. AP reported the warning came on a day of unusually heavy condemnation of the violence in Darfur, with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain proposing a no-fly zone over the region and German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying the suffering of the Sudanese people had become unbearable.

The world could be free of the guinea worm within two years, the World Health Organization (WHO) said March 27. While some 3 million people suffered from the blight in the early 1980s, the WHO said it now affects about 25,000 people in nine African countries, with most prevalence in Sudan and Ghana.

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