Speaking at a special event commemorating World AIDS Day, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today underscored the need to stop stigma and abuse against those living with the disease and to ensure that they receive the care, treatment and protection they are entitled to.
“Hatred and bigotry spread disease and – as the founders of this movement taught – silence equals death,” stressed Mr. Ban in his remarks at the opening of the event. “Tolerance and awareness help stop AIDS. Speaking out protects life.”
Further in his remarks, Mr. Ban highlighted the progress made in addressing the disease, including halving the number of children infected through mother-to-child transmission and doubling the number of people with access to medicines.
He also called for action to ensure that the target of providing treatment to 30 million people by 2030 is met. “This requires that we reach the most vulnerable communities – the young women in Sub-Saharan Africa, people who inject drugs, gay men and other men who have sex with men, and the poor who need services and care,” he said.
The event opened with presentation of awards commemorating Mr. Ban’s leadership on HIV/AIDS during his tenure as UN chief. Presenting the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Leadership Award, Mr. Sidibé said that honouring the Secretary-General is “a very easy task because you are a true leader that has been able to demonstrate [over the past decade] that peoples’ dignity is central to your agenda.”
“You have been taking courageous decisions to visit people where people were looking for hope because they were excluded for who they were […] because they were injecting drugs or because of their sexuality. You have been putting their dignity at the front of your personal fight,” continued Mr. Sidibé, and while “the UN is known for processes,” he said Mr. Ban had called for results.
Indeed, in the time that UNAIDS had stepped up its programmes to end the epidemic the numbers of people in treatment had jumped from just three million people in treatment to more than 13 million today. “It’s not all about numbers; this is lives, families who are now capable of giving hope to their children,” he emphasized.
The special event was organized by UNAIDS under the theme ‘Moving forward together: Leaving no one behind’ to collectively endeavour to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
It also saw the participation of Peter Thomson, President of the General Assembly; Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS; Lorena Castillo de Varela, First Lady of Panama; Eric Sawyer from UN Plus (a group of HIV positive UN staff members).
Notable AIDS activists also attended the event, including fashion designer Kenneth Cole, who is the International Goodwill Ambassador for UNAIDS, supermodel Naomi Campbell, and Rebecca Awiti, a Kenyan mother living with HIV who has three children – all of them HIV negative. She had access antiretroviral prophylaxis during her pregnancy to prevent passing on the infection to her children.
Another highlight of this year’s World AIDS Day is the launch of the hands up for #HIVprevention campaign that will explore different aspects of HIV prevention and how they relate to specific groups of people, such as adolescent girls and young women, key populations and people living with HIV.