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Executive Director Anthony Lake discusses UNICEF's drive towards the finish line - an AIDS-free generation

Women are the focus of World AIDS Day this year. From mothers and caregivers to healthcare workers and policy-makers, women are essential to reaching an AIDS-free generation, which is within reach, at long last.

With AIDS still the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age globally and the main cause of child mortality in countries with high HIV prevalence, UNICEF is featuring women whose strength and resilience help face the realities of the disease from fighting stigma to eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

By Rod Huntress

NEW YORK, United States of America, 30 November 2012 - As countries across the globe observe World AIDS Day this year, they do so with two dates in mind. One is 1 December – the day of the event itself.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake discusses UNICEF's commitment to working hard to realize an AIDS-free generation.  Watch in RealPlayer


The other is 2015, when crucial deadlines for progress against HIV and AIDS arrive, as agreed by the world community.

AIDS-free generation within reach

In three decades of work to roll back the epidemic, much as been achieved – particularly for children, and most notably within the past ten years.

An AIDS-free generation, which once seemed impossible, is within reach at last.

Medicines for children living with HIV now come in dosages to suit their needs and cost a fraction of what they once did. With proper care, the virus can now be managed like a chronic disease.

But much remains to be done. And the 2015 deadlines loom, just two years away – tempting us to choose between optimism and pessimism.

“I believe in working hard”

“I don’t believe in being either optimistic or pessimistic. I believe in working hard.”

© UNICEF/INDA2011-00477/Vishwanathan
Mou Das explains through drawings the various ways HIV can be transmitted. She is part of he Link Worker Scheme in West Bengal, India. The programme has been designed to target those at risk of contracting HIV.

Just days before World AIDS Day, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake is reflecting on the state of the HIV and AIDS epidemic – specifically, on a report just out from UNAIDS containing the latest data on children.

“Obviously,” he says, “you wouldn’t work hard if you didn’t believe that progress was possible.” He cites a UNAIDS figure showing that, between 2009 and 2011, the number of children newly infected with HIV fell 24 per cent globally.

“If you can do that in just two years,” he says, “you can keep moving to the finish line and achieving an AIDS-free generation.”

A push to the finish line

Two key international agreements define the targets to be reached by 2015.

One is the UNAIDS Global Plan toward the Elimination of New HIV Infections among Children by 2015 and Keeping Their Mothers Alive.

In addition to signaling the shift from “preventing” towards the more ambitious task of “eliminating” new HIV infections among children, the plan also seeks to halve AIDS-related maternal mortality.

The other set of targets is defined in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which come due in the same year. Goals 4, 5 and 6 set objectives benefiting mothers, children, adolescents and young people affected by the epidemic.

© UNICEF/MLWB2011-00196/Noorani
Community health nurse Angela Nkhoma counsels a woman at Kasungu District Hospital, Malawi. The young woman tested positive for HIV during a routine visit to the UNICEF-supported clinic.

Progress has been made, and more is needed. But Mr. Lake, a self-proclaimed sports fan, is focused on the objective alone.

“What sets apart good teams from great teams,” he says, “is that a good team, if it sees that it’s winning, relaxes. Great teams keep driving all the way to the finish line.”

A time to redouble our efforts

Given the sluggish global economy, maintaining the momentum needed to reach the finish can feel harder than ever. And, in fact, financial support for HIV and AIDS programming is less robust than it once was.

For Mr. Lake, it’s a signal to redouble UNICEF’s efforts.

“I think it’s going to take continuing resources,” he says, “and, in hard financial times, there’s going to be an instinct to pull back from some of the commitments that have been made.”

The solution, he believes, is to follow through – both on partnerships developed at the community level, particularly those led by women, and on innovations that make a difference.

He’s seen such innovations at work in Malawi, where women living with HIV who once needed a complex cocktail of antiretroviral drugs taken at different times of day now require just one pill, once per day.

“What we need,” he says, “is a coordinated way to bring these innovations to scale.”

That commitment to finding solutions – and pushing on without stopping – can bring achievement of the goals set for 2015 within the world’s grasp at last.



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