UNDP participates in Al Faisal University Health Awareness DayDec 6, 2015
Remarks by Mayssam Tamim
Assistant Resident Representative
On the occasion of the
Health Awareness Day and HIV
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
6th of December 2015
Dear AlFaisal University faculty members and students,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning and a warm welcome to all of you. I would like to thank AlFaisal University for the opportunity to speak to you today on health awareness with a focus on HIV/AIDS.
HIV/AIDS continues to be a major health and development challenge. Today, 36.9 million people are living with HIV, with 1.2 million deaths from AIDS-related illnesses and two million new HIV infections occurring in 2014 alone.
The theme of World AIDS Day through 2015 (from 2011) is “Getting to Zero.” Zero new HIV Infections. Zero Discrimination. Zero AIDS Related Deaths.
However, we are not at Zero yet, in fact, we are nowhere near zero yet!
We may live in a low prevalence country/region, but the fact remains that we still have new cases, we still have discrimination and stigma and the infection rate amongst women is increasing. One cannot underestimate the power of knowledge to curb this pandemic. Education is the key. Educating and empowering youth to protect themselves is paramount to engaging on the path to “Getting to Zero”.
Despite tremendous progress over the last two decades, AIDS continues to be a devastating disease affecting millions of people around the world, with 36.9 million people currently living with HIV, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where the majority of new HIV infections occur.
The Reasons for its spread in poor countries are;
a. These countries have most of the population under poor condition, not having enough nutrition. It makes them more prone to the disease;
b. No awareness about preventive steps and knowledge have resulted into wide spread of HIV;
c. Some traditions and customs of such countries have led to practice polygamy, multi-partner sex, prostitution, which have spread the disease;
d. No or minimum policy implementation to create awareness and prevention of the disease in poor countries;
Ensuring youth are empowered with knowledge, guaranteeing the rights of HIV positive people, will limit the spread. We can start a national awareness day for example like in the U.S. where they have National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day on 10th of April every year.
We want to be politically correct, we choose to be culturally correct, we aim to be socially correct, but are we health correct? An AIDS-free generation can only be through prioritizing awareness to youth. Playing Ostrich will not protect our children; using all means available to us and that means, education, religion, parenthood, leadership (by and from youth) and awareness provision will.
Today may not be World AIDS Day (but close enough). It is a time to take stock of the challenges we still face, but also to celebrate the successes achieved. HIV crosses borders, neither borders can stop it, nor can laws prevent it. More still needs to be done and this forum is an opportune springboard to engage youth in this fight to ensure ultimate victory, one small battle at a time.
But hard work has also been done to address the pandemic and find ways to ease this suffering. The biomedical discoveries, the global efforts in making available unprecedented funds and the expansion of preventive, treatment, care and support services to millions affected by HIV and AIDS have improved the quality of life and stabilized the pandemic in many countries.
However, antiretroviral treatment is still not available to all who need it. Prevention messages have not been expanded to the level needed, and people living with HIV are still discriminated against. Many governments have not yet put in place supportive policies for implementation of harm reduction programmes for injecting drug users. There are many more tasks we need to do.
We hear of many encouraging scientific advances, for example that properly administered antiretroviral treatment can effectively prevent HIV infection, and there is hope of finding a therapy to eradicate HIV from an infected person’s body but we are not there yet and a lot more still needs to be done.
Many of us remember a world with no HIV, no AIDS but none of the young people around us have lived in that world. We owe it to them; to hand over a world free of HIV.
Allow me to end with quoting Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator, from her statement on the occasion of World AIDS Day;
“The recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) commit us to accelerate progress towards ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. Delivering on this ambition will require dramatically expanding and improving access to HIV treatment, reducing the number of new HIV infections, and eliminating HIV-related discrimination.
At the same time, the SDGs also provide an opportunity to address HIV, health, and development in a more inclusive and integrated manner which leaves no one behind. Ending AIDS as a public health threat will require reducing inequalities and exclusion, empowering women and girls, and creating more inclusive and peaceful societies.
There is reason to feel encouraged on this World AIDS Day. The world has made enormous progress - new HIV infections have fallen by 35% since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths have dropped by 42% since their peak in 2004. Today, 15.8 million people are accessing life-saving antiretroviral therapy, 2.2 million of whom are supported through the UNDP-Global Fund partnership.
On this World AIDS Day, the world stands at a critical juncture. With the end of AIDS within our reach, we have a window of opportunity before us. We must accelerate the pace on the last mile of the AIDS response.
If we maintain the status quo, HIV will continue to outpace the response, and the goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 will not be reached. Alternatively, if defeating HIV remains a top priority, and if HIV responses and policies are approached in a holistic, non-discriminatory manner, where marginalized groups are placed at the forefront of our efforts, we can reach our goal.”