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Speech by Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director at High Level Meeting on AIDS Side Event

The Missing Face of Children and AIDS – Progress on Ten Years of Commitments

New York, 9 June 2011

Thank you, Ambassador Proctor, and thank you Princess, for what you do, who you are, and for reminding us all what is really at stake in this effort – just as we all must remind the world that children, young people and mothers are still the missing face of AIDS.

The missing face of AIDS can be a baby’s face  … one of the 1,000 babies who become infected with HIV every day.

It can be the face of a pregnant woman living with HIV … one of hundreds of thousands of women who are not getting the treatment they need to protect their babies and preserve their own health.

It can be the face of a child … one of more than 16 million children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS, and who must struggle to survive in a world that too often ignores their special needs.

And the missing face of AIDS can be a young person … one of the 2,500 adolescents and young adults who become infected with HIV every day – and who did today – and who are all too often shunned and shut out of the services they need to survive.

I look angry, and I am. And we all should be.  Because these are not only statistics.  They are human lives and futures.  We too easily become numbed by these numbers. 

It is up to all of us to make sure that these faces are not hidden … that their needs are not ignored … and that their lives are not forgotten.   Children and mothers must be at the center of the global AIDS response.  

This means redoubling our efforts to achieve the four goals that are the heart of the Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS campaign: 

Prevent maternal to child transmission of HIV. 

Provide better pediatric care and treatment.

Prevent new HIV infections in adolescents and young people.

Protect and support all children affected by HIV. 

And in all these efforts, we must target the most vulnerable children and mothers.  For life saving treatments only save lives if they are affordable, available and reach those in greatest need.   And the global effort to achieve an AIDS-free generation can only succeed if we match our action to our words and our commitments.

Earlier today, with PEPFAR, UNAIDS and other partners, the Global Task Team launched “Countdown to Zero,”  a global plan to reduce the number of new HIV infections among children by 90% – and to cut in half the number of mothers who die from AIDS-related causes – by 2015. 

We already know that great progress is possible, building on lessons we have learned in countries from Rwanda to Thailand to Botwsana, all of which have put eliminating new infections in children at the center of their national plans.   Among other victories, Thailand and Botswana have achieved 80% HIV testing rates among pregnant women – a critical step toward an AIDS-free generation. 

We need to invest in scaling up proven initiatives like these – and we need to work to integrate these plans more fully into the broader global effort to improve women’s and children’s health.   

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recognizes this link in his Global Strategy on Women’s and Children’s Health – but it is up to all of us to forge it … as they have in Cambodia, where linking PMTCT services with maternal and child health programmes is yielding promising results for families affected by HIV and AIDS.

This is not only the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do.

When a mother or a child is infected with HIV, society must choose between moral failure – ignoring their needs – and massive expenditure – paying for a lifetime of ARV therapy.  Either way, the costs are unacceptably high.

But infants born free of HIV do not need costly future care – and have a better chance to survive and thrive. 

Mothers who receive antiretroviral therapy are far more likely to remain healthy – and so are their children.

Young people affected by HIV and AIDS who have equal access to education, health and support services are surely better able to make the most of their potential.

And nations that invest in reaching the children and mothers at greatest risk not only save lives, they save millions of dollars that can be invested in building a stronger society for all their citizens.

We have the knowledge, the science and the power to achieve an AIDS-free generation.   We can do this -- and because we can, we must.   And together, I believe we will.

Now, it is my pleasure to introduce a leader in this global effort:  Dr. John Seakgosing, Minister of Health of the Republic of Botswana.   The Minister is helping to lead his nation’s formidable effort to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV, and we are grateful that he could join us today. 




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