By Branwyn Lancourt
NEW YORK, USA, 10 June 2011 – Children and mothers must be at the centre of the global HIV/AIDS response, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake told a distinguished gathering of leaders in the fight against AIDS in New York last night.
|VIDEO: 9 June 2011 - UNICEF correspondent Priyanka Pruthi reports on a high-level meeting aimed at reviewing progress and charting the future course of the global AIDS response. Watch in RealPlayer|
“Infants born free of HIV do not need costly future care,” said Mr. Lake. “Mothers who receive antiretroviral therapy are far more likely to remain healthy – and so are their children.”
He was speaking at ‘The Missing Face of Children and AIDS: Progress on Ten Years of Commitments’ event, held to discuss the importance of keeping children at the centre of the HIV response.
Australian Ambassador for HIV Murray Proctor, moderator for the evening, began the proceedings with a brief reflection on advances made and on-going challenges in the goal of achieving a generation of children born free of HIV. He then introduced the night’s first speaker, Deputy UN Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro.
|UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake speaks at the HIV/AIDS meeting in New York. He called for a redoubling of efforts to eliminate new HIV infections in infants and children.|
Opportunity for progress
Ms. Migiro began hopefully, stressing the opportunity for major progress. "I feel a strong confidence that now is the time to end the transmission of HIV from mothers to babies,” she said.
Earlier in the day, the Global Task Team, along with the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and UNAIDS, launched ‘Countdown to Zero’ – a plan to reduce the number of new HIV infections among infants and children by 90 per cent and cut in half the number of mothers who die from AIDS-related causes by 2015.
Ms. Migiro highlighted this effort as a key step in the fight. “Mothers are the pillars and children are the future. When either suffers, families suffer,” she explained.
Underscoring her remarks, President of Rwanda Paul Kagame noted that for too long, “the faces of the world's children have been missing.”
|President or Rwanda Paul Kagame speaks at 'The Missing Face of Children and AIDS: Progress on Ten Years of Commitments' meeting, held in New York City.|
"Their concerns have been overshadowed by what were considered more pressing issues. It is urgent that we focus our attention on children and make them central to the HIV response.”
“History will judge us if we fail," he added.
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé emphasized the need for equity. “It is an injustice when the value of life is not the same across the globe. All children need to be a global priority and not be left to the lottery of geography," he said.
The most poignant moment of the night came when youth leader Nabbumba Nuru addressed the audience, bringing a human face and an eloquent voice to a subject so often obscured by statistics.
"What drives me to say what I say," she began, "…is that I was born with HIV/AIDS, I have lived with it for 24 years. It robbed me of my childhood, so I stand before you and I challenge you to fully commit to the eradication of mother-to-child transmission of HIV."
|Nabbumba Nuru, a young person living with HIV, from Uganda, speaks to high level delegates at the HIV/AIDS meeting.|
Ms. Nuru noted that through her personal journey, she has encountered many young people affected by HIV who are struggling with the challenges of transitioning from childhood to adolescence and adulthood.
"These young people have special needs, and their needs change from stage to stage. Many can’t access treatment, because the available programmes only target those that are HIV negative," she said.
Mr. Lake pointed out that nations investing in children and mothers at greatest risk not only saves lives, but millions of dollars as well – money that can be invested in building a stronger society for all their citizens.
He concluded by pressing for a redoubling of efforts to achieve the goal of an AIDS-free generation. “We have the knowledge, the science and the power,” he said. “We can do this – and because we can, we must. And together, we will.”
UN Radio speaks with UNICEF Chief of HIV/AIDS Jimmy Kolker, ahead of the Fifth Global Partners Forum
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