​​​​​​​Statement delivered by the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Ms. Nathalie Ndongo-Seh to Parliament as part of World AIDS Day commemoration

Statement delivered by UN Resident Coordinator during Commemoration of World AIDS Day in Parliament

Hon. Speaker of the House of Assembly

Madame President of the House of Senate

Hon. Members of both houses

Program Director

NERCHA Director

Parliamentary staff

Representatives of Civil Society Organizations

UN colleagues

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

 

Sanibonani Bekunene,

 

It is with pleasure and utmost humility that I am among you here today, in unity and in solidarity, as we observe World AIDS Day under the theme - global solidarity, a shared responsibility. The theme has been adapted in Eswatini into - Solidarity to end AIDS by 2022: A shared responsibility, and in Siswati, Sibumbene!! Ngimi nawe sincoba iAIDS nga2022.

Before I proceed any further, I wish to pause to present, on behalf of the United Nations Development System in Eswatini, my respects and best wishes of prompt and full recovery to His Excellency, the Right Honorable Prime Minister, Mr Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini and any person, whoever they are, who may be fighting an unprecedented battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Our prayers, our moral support and our profound solidarity are with you and your families in these exceptionally challenging times.

I also wish to congratulate the new Clerk to Parliament, Mr. Benedict Xaba, on his appointment. I am privileged to have worked closely with him a few months ago and I am confident that, based on his professionalism, diligence and dedication, our working relationship with the esteemed and the august Houses of Parliament will continue to grow stronger and better in the interests of those we serve, the people of this beautiful nation.

            May I also take this opportunity to pay my respects to and thank the Parliament, and in particular its leadership in the persons of the Speaker of the House of Assembly and the Senate President for welcoming us and hosting such an important event in partnership with NERCHA. I do not recall such a commemoration in the past. This is therefore a very commendable gesture, one that is in line with this year’s theme of solidarity and shared responsibility.

Excellencies,

Honourable Members of the Parliament,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Every year, on the 1st of December, the world commemorates World AIDS Day. People around the world unite to show support for those living with and being affected by HIV, and to remember and celebrate the lives of those who lost their battle against AIDS.

The world has made significant progress since the late 1990s and we can all attest to the achievements made by the Kingdom of Eswatini alone in turning the tide against HIV & AIDS. However, the reality is that HIV remains to date a major global public health issue. And like any other major health issue, its challenges were exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A UNAIDS report released in July showed that, around the world, HIV targets set for 2020 will not be reached, owing in part to deeply unequal access to antiretroviral therapy and service disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a recent UNICEF report, children are still getting infected at alarming rates, and they are still dying from AIDS. This was even the case before COVID-19 interrupted vital HIV treatment and prevention services, putting countless more lives at risk.

The sobering reality is that there is still no HIV vaccine. Prevention efforts and treatment for children remain some of the lowest priorities amongst key affected population, and, in 2019, a little less than half of children worldwide did not have access to life-saving treatment.

With COVID-19, HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care services are all being disrupted, particularly in countries with fragile health systems. The breakdown in essential HIV services due to COVID-19 is threatening lives. Any slowdown in the provision of these services will leave many vulnerable populations at greater risk of HIV infection and AIDS-related deaths.

Very unfortunately, COVID-19 is showing how health is interlinked with other critical issue, such as reducing inequalities, human rights, gender equality, social protection and economic growth, hence the theme of this year: Global solidarity, a shared responsibility”.

Excellencies,

Honourable Members of the Parliament,

Ladies and gentlemen,

COVID-19 has demonstrated that, during a pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe. Leaving people behind is not an option if we are to succeed and come out of this crisis as one. Eliminating stigma and discrimination, putting people at the centre of our responses and grounding our responses in human rights and gender-responsive approaches are key to ending the colliding pandemics of HIV and COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the entrenched inequalities that exist in our societies. While COVID-19 knows no boundaries and does not discriminate based on gender, race, social status, origins in developed or developing countries, this health crisis, like many others, has nevertheless been  hitting the poorest and the most vulnerable the hardest.

The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the challenges faced by people living with HIV, by women and girls, and by key populations in their access to life-saving health care. The crisis has also widened social and economic inequalities, thereby increasing the vulnerability of marginalized groups to HIV.

However, this crisis has also been a wake-up call, an opportunity to reassess our progress, to rethink strategies and trajectories, and do things differently, better and together. In many respects, the defeat of AIDS as a global public health threat now depends on how the world responds to COVID-19.

I am proud that, over the past year, HIV stakeholders in Eswatini have mobilized to defend HIV progress, to protect people living with HIV and other vulnerable groups, and to push the coronavirus back.

The leadership and the engagement of communities, as well as access to health and social services and the exercise of our duty of care towards people living with HIV,  which are instrumental in the success of the AIDS response, have also been key in responding to COVID-19. We have seen countless examples of how community activism and solidarity have, once again, been paramount in providing people affected by HIV with information, services, social protection, and hope. However, such solidarity cannot be the sole responsibility of communities. Governments, donors, faith leaders, civil society, and every one of us shall contribute to make the world a healthier place.

Your Excellencies,

Honourable Members of the Parliament,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Global solidarity and shared responsibility require us to view global health responses, including the AIDS response, through different lenses. They require for example Honourable Parliamentarians to come together to ensure that:

  1. Health is fully financed. Governments must come together and find new ways to fund health care fully. No one country can do it alone: domestic and international funding for health must be increased.
  2. Health systems are strengthened. Investments in the AIDS response in the past few decades have helped to strengthen health systems and have been supporting the COVID-19 response. However, more needs to be done to strengthen health systems even further and protect health-care workers.
  3. Access is ensured. Life-saving medicines, vaccines, and diagnostics must be considered as public goods. There must be global solidarity and a shared responsibility to ensure that no individual, no community, and no country is left behind in accessing life-saving health commodities.
  4. Human rights are respected. A human rights approach applied everywhere will produce sustainable results for health. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fault lines in society and how key populations have been left behind in many parts of the world.
  5. The rights of women and girls, and gender equality, are at the center. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected women’s livelihoods, which have been disproportionally affected by lockdown measures, and lockdowns have increased violence, including sexual violence and the risks of HIV contamination, against women in household settings. Women must be included in decision-making processes that affect their lives. The world cannot afford rollbacks in decades of hard-won gains in gender equality.

Now is the moment for bold leadership for equal societies, the right to dignity and health for all, and the formulation of a robust and equitable recovery at the global, continental, regional, national and community levels.

Excellencies,

Honourable Members of the Parliament,

Ladies and gentlemen,

When everyone is involved and shares responsibility, positive change happens, investments lead to results, and equality, respect and dignity are seen.  With solidarity, Emaswati can end the AIDS epidemic by 2022. This will be accomplished through the continued combined efforts of the Eswatini government, donors, faith leaders, development partners, civil society, and every single one of us. Your contribution, our individual and collective contributions are needed to make the Kingdom of Eswatini a healthier place! 

Based on Eswatini historic and impressive success thus far, we know that, altogether, in unity and in solidarity, with the interests, the good health and the well-being of the people of Eswatini serving as our shared compass and our shared responsibility, we can achieve the last mile of ending AIDS as a public health threat in Eswatini by 2022.

So far, we have achieved what other countries have dreamt of achieving and which is the 95-95-95 goals. I am therefore confident that we can achieve the last mile – together!

Sibumbene!! Ngimi nawe sincoba iAIDS nga2022!

 

Ngi-ya-bo-nga ka-khu-lu!

Speech by
Author
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
Resident Coordinator
RCO
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
UN entities involved in this initiative
IOM
International Organization for Migration
UNAIDS
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
UNDP
United Nations Development Programme
UNFPA
United Nations Population Fund
UNPRPD
The UN Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
WHO
World Health Organization