APEC Seminar: Social Policies for Migrants to Prevent the Transmission of HIV/AIDS

Ha Noi, Viet Nam, 18 September 2008
  • Opening Remarks by Ambassador Juan Carlos Capuñay, Executive Director, APEC Secretariat
I would like to thank Vu Quang Minh - Director General, of the Multilateral Economic Cooperation Dept, Ministry of Foreign Affairs for his kind invitation and the opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts on the issue of social policies for migrants to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS.
Often, as we consider the challenges of current times, we think of escalating food prices; the consequences of climate change; or the scarcity of energy, water and other natural resources. In recent years, attention has been given to natural disasters, acts of terrorism and war. HIV has been relegated to a somewhat lower-tier of awareness.
Given this scenario it may be that we have become accustomed to its existence. Perhaps we have become desensitised or possibly it is the reflection of a lack of concerted effort by governments to prevent it and mitigate its effects.
According to UNAIDS, no part of the world is yet able to declare victory over the virus. While the rate of infection has fallen in some economies; over all progress has been negated by the growing infection rates in others. Sometimes statistics are manipulated to suggest that the situation has improved or deteriorated dramatically. But the truth is that, last year, the number of individuals receiving treatment was equal to the number of individuals who were newly affected.
HIV is sometimes dismissed as a social pathology. And in many instances, patterns of transmission are associated with personal choices and thus many governments have relinquished responsibility.
However, the effects of HIV are an economic phenomenon. HIV decreases the size and quality of a workforce. It decreases the amount and efficacy of production. It exhausts health and welfare resources and impedes socio-economic prosperity.
As we consider the idea of HIV migration, it will be important to determine our intent. Do we intend to stop the geographical movement of those infected with HIV? Or do we intend to stop the spread of HIV from infected to previously uninfected bodies? The answers to these questions will define our approach.
As it stands today, striking disparities exist among our own economies. In formulating policy that can effectively decelerate the migration of HIV, one must first consider the factors affecting its prevalence.
Apart from having the greatest income levels, the economies with the lowest rates of infection are those who have the highest rates of literacy and those in which minorities are treated most equitably.
Conversely, HIV prevalence has been inextricably linked to poverty; inaccessibility of information; social discrimination and stigma.
Some might ask how APEC - a decidedly economic body - can mitigate the spread of a virus. But considering the correlation of HIV to the economic competitiveness of our economies, APEC could play a very significant role.
By making it easier for small and medium sized enterprises to operate legally, function effectively and extend beyond border limits, APEC expands the range of opportunities for individuals to generate personal wealth. This is particularly true for micro-enterprises, for whom the ease of doing business can determine their ability to insert themselves into a global marketplace.
By strengthening the region as a whole, APEC enables each member economy to realise the full benefits of globalisation and, in turn, to provide citizens with greater financial security and stronger social welfare systems.
Less directly, many of the developments derived from APEC initiatives have a mitigating effect on the spread of HIV. For example, technological networks are key in disseminating life-saving information across the region.
Access rates still vary widely: whereas in the most developed APEC economies, cellular phone subscriptions have reached well over 83 percent and internet use over 44 percent, developing economies have only a 22 percent rate of cellular subscription and as little as 8 percent internet use. In Bangkok this past April, Ministers acknowledged universal broadband as imperative and declared their ambition to achieve this target by 2015.
Later, in June, Education Ministers became aware that education must evolve more rapidly and address the changing needs of citizens in a global and complex social network. In the past, emphasis has been on subjects considered "basic" such as science and mathematics. But now, it is recognised that students require a different set of tools.
As people become more mobile and as technology allows for an exponentially greater number of interactions, they need to be equipped with abstract reasoning skills, the ability to converse logically in different languages and across cultures. They need to be critical, aware, and able to make wise choices that lead to long-term prosperity.
If, then, it is true that HIV is a largely social disease, these skills will be critical to alleviation.
In the APEC region - which is among the strongest economic associations in the world - the spread of HIV is also linked to discrimination.
Statistics show that an economy's infection rate is inversely related to the amount of discrimination exercised against minorities. That is to say, economies who protect those most likely to suffer discrimination are the ones which incur the lowest rates of transmission.
This means that to moderate the spread of HIV, it is imperative to consider minority groups and to bring them into institutions from which they may otherwise be excluded. Through more inclusive policies, economies can draw marginalised groups into the very institutions that will decrease their risk of infection.
Let me turn to the way forward; APEC is at a distinct advantage. Transcending borders between 21 unique economies, each with its distinct cultural, historic and socio-economic context, APEC is able to analyse and assess policy from a multiplicity of viewpoints. Drawing a range of experts and decision-makers, APEC is an ideal forum in which to exchange experiences and to propose new and innovative approaches.
Indeed the world is changing. Many things happen quickly with results that are immediate. Many challenges are ongoing and are a result of globalization and the new global architecture. We must not ignore them. Rather, we must leverage on the unique position and particular strengths of our union.
Given the influence of HIV/AIDS on the functioning of our economies, solutions require commitments from governments, civil society, and business. Effective public private partnerships can go a long way in helping to solve this long-term issue.
APEC's Health Working Group can make a solid contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS. By sharing our experiences and lessons on the social management of migration we will be better able to develop effective social administrative policies to improve control HIV/AIDS transmission among migrants.
Indeed, APEC can positively contribute to the reduction and control of the economic consequences of the migration of HIV; and we must do so.