While observing today, 1 December, World AIDS Day 2007, I would particularly like to highlight the impact of this disease on children and youth.
It is important to note that in countries where more investment was made into prevention programmes, HIV/AIDS infection rates have clearly declined. This clearly proves the urgency of commitment and leadership by all levels of government as well as the society to wipe out the disease. Although we are beginning to make progress, there remains a long way to go. Every minute a child dies from an AIDS-related illness. By the time you read this message, some 10 to 15 children might have died. If this is not tragic enough, consider this: 15 million children worldwide have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS, and by 2010 this figure will increase to 20 million. In 2006, 4.3 million people were infected with HIV/AIDS, the highest ever in one year.
However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The alarming fact is the legacy of deprivation which comes in the aftermath of HIV/AIDS infection and death – the fact that tens of millions of youth are left without parents, teachers, health workers and other adults who care for them and protect them.
Some 25 years into the pandemic children are often not on the HIV/AIDS radar screens because they become infected, die and are often not perceived to be major transmitters of the virus or disease.
Today, marking the second anniversary of the “Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS Campaign”, let us consider the importance of leadership in stopping the spread of the disease. Leadership does not only include those in high office. Leadership can and must be demonstrated at every level – by individuals, in schools, within families, in places of work and worship, in countries and internationally.
The number of cases in many countries may not seem large when compared to prevalence in other places such as sub-Saharan Africa with its three millions cases, or Eastern Europe and Central Asia where the figures now stand at 1.6 million. The reality is: HIV/AIDS figures never really tell the whole story.
The needs are urgent and goals are ambitious, but reachable only if we all join the efforts. This is why we ask you to “Take the Lead” for a generation free of HIV/AIDS.