|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
African Union Can Count on United Nations, on Deputy Secretary-General Personally,
to Promote Women’s, Children’s Health in Continent, She Tells Summit in Kampala
Following is the text of UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks to the gala dinner at the African Union Summit, in Kampala, Uganda, on 26 July:
I must admit that I had some problems in preparing my remarks for this evening. I did not expect that. The subject of my talk — the health of African women and children — is straightforward. There are voluminous reports, abundant political pronouncements. And yet, I struggled.
Maybe because this subject is so personal to me, I was forced to think more deeply than usual about what I would say. I am a woman from Africa. I will always consider myself a child of Africa. I cannot speak only as the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.
I stand before you as a fellow African. And tonight I would like to address one serious health challenge in particular: the continued struggle against HIV and AIDS. Maternal health is a barometer of a nation’s state of development, and its future. Children who lose their mothers are more likely to be malnourished, drop out of school and live in poverty. This has a clear impact on social and economic development. I trust that no one here would dispute the assertion that countries need healthy women and children for their development.
But allow me, Excellencies, to ask you to consider the issue from a different point of view. When women and children look at us, do they see hope for themselves? We saw the beautiful children who performed here tonight. If they looked at us, could they see any hope in us?
Not so long ago, people could be beaten to death for admitting that they were living with HIV. We have moved on from those days. We have come a long way. But the stigma associated with HIV still kills. Women and children still die because they are ashamed of what their families and friends will think if they get tested.
For example: we know how to prevent mother-to-child transmission. But we are reaching only an estimated 45 per cent of mothers who need this treatment, which means that 430,000 babies will be born with HIV this year — 90 per cent of them in Africa. We have the means to prevent this.
What we need is the moral and political will. When women and children look at us, they must see strong leadership: leadership to ensure health for all; leadership that fights the treatment of women and children as second-class citizens; leadership that recognizes gender equality and sexual and reproductive health as central to development and meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
That is the challenge implicit in the question I raised a few moments ago. If women and children look at us and see strong leadership, they will find hope for themselves. Throughout this summit, we have seen that leadership.
Women and children, in Africa and elsewhere, must also be able to rely on the international community. The United Nations family, including UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS), UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), WHO (World Health Organization) and the World Bank are firmly behind you.
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has had a demonstrable impact. Some 5 million people in developing countries now have access to HIV treatment. More than half of them can credit the Global Fund for this. That is why Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has asked me to call on the African Union, and each of you, to raise your voices for a fully-funded Global Fund. A call was also made today by a number of speakers during the luncheon today chaired by President [Jakaya Mrisho] Kikwete.
In October, the Secretary-General will chair the Fund’s third replenishment conference. A successful replenishment will enable many African countries to strengthen their health systems, prevent new infections, buy medicines for treatment, and save lives.
As we try to raise funds, we should also make the most of the resources we have. With that in mind, the Secretary-General has launched a Joint Action Plan for Women’s and Children’s Health. I made reference to this plan yesterday and today when I had the privilege of addressing you in different forums. Please read this plan and give it your full support at the Millennium Development Goals Summit in September.
Despite many challenges, we are making progress. Recent evidence shows that we have made some important gains. The rate of new HIV infections has slowed. Access to HIV treatment in low- and middle-income countries has increased ten-fold in five years. Researchers recently announced that the use by women of a new generation of topical gels showed a significant reduction in their risk of acquiring HIV infection.
There is reason to hope. But we must guard against complacency. We will have to work hard in the months and years ahead. We must not only increase funding, but build national capacity, deliver health services in more efficient ways, and — perhaps most important of all — change attitudes.
The African Union can count on the United Nations to promote women’s and children’s health throughout the continent. And you may count on me personally. As a woman from Africa, and a child of Africa, I give you my word.
* *** *For information media • not an official record