Secretary-General Says 2011 ‘Moment of Truth’ in Global HIV/AIDS Response, Praises Energy, Activism of Civil Society in Effort, at General Assembly Hearing

Secretary-General Says 2011 ‘Moment of Truth’ in Global HIV/AIDS Response, Praises Energy, Activism of Civil Society in Effort, at General Assembly Hearing

Following are Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the Civil Society Hearing on HIV and AIDS, in New York 8 April:

Welcome back to the United Nations, to this timely and important civil society hearing on HIV and AIDS.

I am deeply grateful for your contributions and sacrifices.

We are here today because of you.

Because of your energy, there has been progress in preventing the spread of HIV.

Because of your activism, millions of people are getting treatment.

Because you keep pushing for more, there is work on a vaccine, and there is a push for a cure.

Even though you were not in government you knew all Governments had a responsibility to respond to this epidemic with compassion and action. You organized and rallied and worked until Governments — and multilateral organizations like the United Nations — changed the way we do business. In the process, you blazed a new trail for global cooperation on the Millennium Development Goals, and threats like maternal and child mortality.

People living with HIV should be at the forefront of this movement. A few days ago, I met in Kenya with Ms. Rebecca Awiti, a community activist. She lives with HIV, but thanks to treatment, her triplets are free of the virus. Now she is helping other mothers protect their babies.

Ms. Awiti was with me to launch my report to energize all players ahead of the High-Level Meeting on AIDS this June. This hearing is an important part of the process. You can help prepare Member States for the difficult yet vital decisions they will face in June.

My report does more than just take stock. It is a cry for action. This year is a moment of truth in the global AIDS response.

We have made extraordinary gains. We are on the brink of real success.

But funding has flatlined. HIV continues to spread. Five people are infected every minute of every day. One in seven of them are children. Millions of people still lack the drugs that save lives, and help keep the virus in check.

The targets we set in 2001 remain valid, but the deadlines for meeting them have passed. Now we need new goals.

My report is specific and clear:

First, cut in half the sexual transmission of HIV.

Second, provide treatment for 13 million people.

Third, stop all mother-to-child transmission.

Fourth, cut in half the number of TB deaths among people living with HIV.

Fifth, support children orphaned and affected by AIDS so they get the schools and protection they need.

And sixth, cut in half the number of countries with HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay or residence.

It is critical to end stigma and discrimination.

HIV forces us to discuss very sensitive issues, including injecting drug users, men who have sex with men, sex workers and those who patronize them.

Before I became Secretary-General, these were not issues I was accustomed to talking about. But I quickly realized that the old slogan “silence equals death” is absolutely true. And I realized something else: stigma equals death. As long as people feel ashamed to talk about sexuality, as long as it is considered immoral for women to understand their own reproductive health, as long as individuals with HIV are subject to systematic abuse, then stigma will cause death upon death upon death.

Laws that discriminate against people with HIV and AIDS are clearly unjust on human rights grounds. They are also completely counter-productive in terms of public health. When you drive a vulnerable population underground you keep them from  gaining access to testing and care. That makes it much more difficult to check the spread of the virus.

Governments are working to address this problem — but constructive collaboration on the part of civil society can boost their efforts. That is why I need you.

I am not only asking you to act — I am pledging to take action myself. I will continue to personally urge government officials to bring us closer to our ultimate goals: no new infections, no stigma or discrimination, and no AIDS-related deaths.

Last month, the world lost one of our greatest AIDS activists. Elizabeth Taylor was known to so many people for her rare beauty and her many talents. I myself was a huge fan of her movies growing up. But to the United Nations family, her star shone brightest as a champion of action on HIV and AIDS.

Some 15 years ago, speaking at the United Nations, she talked about how difficult it had been to organize her first event on AIDS. She said, “I never faced rejection like that before in my life. Everybody slammed doors, hung up phones and didn’t want to become involved.”

If people were hanging up the phone on Elizabeth Taylor, I can only imagine the struggle that all of you went through in the early days to get us where we are now.

Elizabeth Taylor is no longer alive, but she left a great legacy. And she left us these words about the struggle against HIV and AIDS: “Keep pushing and fighting because it isn’t over yet. There is hope,” she said. “But we need more than hope. We need you.”

In this spirit, I wish you all success at these important hearings so you can generate great momentum ahead of the High-Level Meeting in June.