8 June 2021

Lessons from Experience with HIV Invaluable for Response to COVID-19, Deputy Secretary-General Says, at Opening of High-Level Meeting

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks at the opening of the high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS today:

It is a pleasure to be with you.  I bring the best wishes of the Secretary-General.  I congratulate the President of the General Assembly and the co-facilitators, Ambassador [Neville] Gertze of Namibia and Ambassador [Mitchell] Fifield of Australia, for shepherding this process.  I deeply appreciate Member States for the robust engagement that has generated an ambitious Political Declaration.

It has been 40 years since the first cases of AIDS were reported.  As that pandemic unfolded, fear, denial, stigma and neglect engulfed societies across the world.  Communities on the front lines called for political leadership and for the world to take action, while caring for loved ones who were dying.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has been a crucial part of the response.  It has marshalled unprecedented global solidarity to fight a pandemic that was shattering entire regions; forged innovative partnerships; reformed outdated laws and policies; ensured meaningful engagement of those affected; stood up for human rights and shared data.

Throughout, UNAIDS has focused on people not being left behind.  And it has showcased the value of “One UN” — a joint programme that unites 11 co-sponsors and with civil society at its heart.  UNAIDS remains at the heart of our efforts to support countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

We have learned many valuable lessons from the HIV response.  One is the critical role of civil society.  Working alongside public health and other systems, community-led responses help build resilient and inclusive systems for health.

Without the campaigns and other efforts of civil society, 26 million people would not be on life-saving antiretroviral treatment today.  At the turn of the millennium, less than 1 per cent of people living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries had access to antiretrovirals.  Thanks to tireless advocacy and activism, prices of medicines for HIV dropped dramatically and access to treatment expanded to the Global South.

The HIV response has demonstrated what is possible.  With political leadership, strong community engagement, rights-based and multisectoral approaches, and consistent use of scientific evidence, we can achieve our goal of ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030.  We have the knowledge, and we have the tools.

Since the first Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS in 2001, the Political Declarations have been a powerful instrument to secure progress.  Clear and ambitious targets make the difference.  They inspire global solidarity, direct actions on the ground, and generate accountability.  Yet our journey forward will not be easy.

HIV raises issues often considered sensitive or taboo — involving gender, sexuality, identity, exclusion and power.  Acute and intersecting inequalities are hindering progress.  Women and girls are experiencing discrimination and violence.  People living with HIV and other key populations are being marginalized and even criminalized.

And now COVID-19 has set us back, reminding us of the unbearable cost borne when pandemics spread.  The lessons from our experience with HIV are invaluable for the response to COVID-19, just as they were in responding to the 2014–2015 Ebola outbreak in western and central Africa.  These lessons are also essential for future pandemic preparedness.

I would like to thank UNAIDS Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, for steering the global AIDS response amidst colliding pandemics, and for her leadership in the movement to make COVID-19 vaccines a public good, and a people’s vaccine.

Pandemics thrive in, and widen, the fault lines and fractures of society.  To end AIDS, we need to end the intersecting injustices that drive new HIV infections and prevent people from accessing services.  That is why we must fully implement the new UNAIDS five-year Global AIDS strategy focused on addressing the inequalities that drive HIV infections and deaths.  With global, local structures and strong health systems fully aligned to achieve the targets in the strategy, I believe we will dramatically reduce HIV infections and AIDS deaths by 2025.

That requires an explicit focus on tackling inequalities, upholding human rights, and achieving gender equality. That also requires increased domestic and international funding.  We must front-load investments to lower- and middle-income countries and help them move towards sustainable financing of their HIV responses.

In closing, let me return to the role of communities, people living with and affected by HIV, and the entire HIV movement.  I salute you for leading the struggle against AIDS and for standing up, fearlessly and tirelessly, for equality, justice, inclusion, dignity and human rights.  I urge us all to come together around these principles.  They are what the United Nations stands for; they are the backbone of global health; and they are critical ingredients for the societal transformation required to realize the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.