Statement by the UN Resident Coordinator, Ms Nathalie Ndongo-Seh, at the Virtual World AIDS Day Celebration for UN Staff

On Thursday, 25th February, UNAIDS hosted a virtual celebration of World AIDS Day with UN staff and personnel.

Country Director of UNAIDS,

Dr Advocate Dlamini,

Chairman of the Staff Federation,

UN staff and personnel,

 

It gives me great pleasure to close today’s wonderful virtual celebration of World AIDS Day: our first staff gathering since the beginning of the year. On that note, I would like to thank UNAIDS immensely for hosting today’s event and indeed, wish you all a healthy and safe 2021. I am proud of you all, the UN Family, for enduring what has been an intense year of grief, disruption and hardship while, at the same time, delivering on UNDAF, finalizing UNSDCF 2021-2025, and providing a one UN Eswatini multifaceted response to COVID-19. We look forward to witnessing the fruits of our efforts and indeed, a prosperous 2021.

2020’s theme for World AIDS Day; ‘global solidarity: a shared responsibility,’ highlights the values that  we have all come to truly appreciate, as we fight the COVID-19 pandemic. We take the hope in the incredible achievements made by those who have ceaselessly fought the AIDS pandemic, both worldwide and within our beautiful Kingdom of Eswatini, that success against the pandemic is possible when we stand together. We recognise, in particular, the tremendous efforts and courage of our colleagues at UNAIDS, and our valued partners: NERCHA, the Ministry of Health and more.

It is in times such as these, in which we battle many wars, that we remember that HIV matters. The HIV and AIDS epidemic remains with us, nearly 40 years after it emerged, and it cannot be side-lined.

In his message on World AIDS Day 2020, the Secretary General, Mr. António Guterres, called upon the world to stand in solidarity and share responsibility to overcome COVID-19 and end AIDS. Universal heath coverage, a human right, is therefore a priority in beating both the COVID-19 and the AIDS epidemics. We must not stop until all persons, including persons living with HIV, are provided healthcare services that will enable them to live a prosperous life.

Solidarity is needed, even as we celebrate the significant success of achieving the 95-95-95 target in Eswatini, 10 years ahead of all other nations, as the AIDS emergency is not over.  The reality is that in the past year; globally 38 million people were living with HIV, and a further 1.7 million people became newly infected with HIV. As previously heard, Eswatini has the highest HIV prevalence in the world at 27.3%, representing 205,700 people living with HIV. It is still a major cause for concern that new HIV infections are estimated to be higher among young people aged 15 to 24, and affect mostly girls: the vulnerable populations which have been amongst those hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Solidarity and a shared responsibility prove to be our greatest weapons in these battles against the COVID-19 and HIV pandemics, as  no one is safe until everyone is safe. Leaving people behind is therefore not an option if we are to succeed.

Eliminating stigma and discrimination; putting people at the centre; and grounding our responses in human rights and gender-responsive approaches are key to ending the colliding pandemics of HIV and COVID-19.

While the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the challenges faced by people living with HIV, by women and girls, and by key populations, the crisis has also been a wake-up call; an opportunity to do things differently—better, and together.

. As we lay much of our hope in the upcoming roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, we must ensure that the COVID-19 vaccine and HIV treatments and care are affordable and available to everyone, everywhere.

I am proud that throughout 2020, the HIV stakeholders in Eswatini, coordinated by UNAIDS, have mobilized to defend our HIV progress, to protect people living with HIV and other vulnerable groups, and to push the coronavirus back. Very many thanks to UNAIDS colleagues, who have boldly fought to make significant progress to end HIV and AIDS in Eswatini.

So too am I proud of the invaluable work of the UN Cares Team, who are working hard under the leadership of UNAIDS Country Director, Rose Craigue, and Secretary-General of the Eswatini National Commission for UNESCO, Phumzile Hlophe, to reduce the impact of HIV in the UN workplace, by offering all UN personnel and their families: confidential counselling and testing for HIV and COVID-19, free condoms and treatment for those living with HIV: a treatment that is covered by UN staff insurance.

I encourage you all to make use of this support-system, as the health of UN personnel and their families, is more important than anything.

As we reflect on today’s discussions on healthy-living, HIV and TB during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded of our commitment in the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF 2021-2025), to support the Government and the people of Eswatini to move towards, “a prosperous, just and resilient Eswatini where no one is left behind.”

Through global solidarity and a shared responsibility, starting with us; the UN Family in Eswatini, we will help to beat the coronavirus and AIDS epidemic.

Let us take hope and courage today that, indeed, it can be done!

I thank you for your time and participation today.

Speech by
Author
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
Resident Coordinator
RCO
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
UN entities involved in this initiative
RCO
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office
UNAIDS
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS