Statement by the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Ms. Nathalie Ndongo-Seh, at the World AIDS Day Commemoration

On Thursday, 3rd December, the United Nations celebrated World AIDS Day with the Government and partners in Manzini.

Your Excellency the Hon. Deputy Prime Minister

Bobabe tikhulu (Chiefs present)

Hon. Minister of Health

Hon. Members of Parliament present

Excellency U.S. Ambassador

The Regional Administrator

Manzini City Mayor

NERCHA Council, Chairperson & Executive Director

United Nations Heads of Agencies and colleagues,

Implementing Partners in the region

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

It is with pleasure that I join you here today, as we observe World AIDS Day under the theme Global solidarity, shared responsibility”. The theme has been adapted in Eswatini into – “Solidarity to end AIDS by 2022: A shared responsibility”.

A few days ago, I had the privilege of addressing Members of Parliament as part of their commemoration of World AIDS Day. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate NERCHA, the Ministry of Health and all partners involved in putting together this extensive programme of the World AIDS Campaign. This commendable work has made sure to remind all of us that - HIV MATTERS - even during other pandemics such as COVID-19.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen

While it may be unprecedented, the world is in the middle of colliding epidemics of HIV and COVID-19. With so much attention focused on the COVID-19 crisis, World AIDS Day serves as a reminder of the need to maintain focus on the other global pandemic that is still with us nearly 40 years after it emerged.

In his message on World AIDS Day, the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Antonio Guterres, has called upon the world to stand in solidarity and share responsibility to overcome COVID-19 and end AIDS. He highlighted that it is pivotal that universal health coverage is a top investment priority. He reminded that health is a human right and healthcare for all is crucial in beating the COVID-19 and AIDS pandemics. 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.We must not stop bringing attention to the HIV epidemic, increasing HIV awareness and knowledge, speaking out against HIV stigma.

Solidarity is needed as we know that despite the significant successes -especially in Eswatini where the country has achieved the 95-95-95 target 10 years ahead of all other nations -- the AIDS emergency is not over.  The reality is that, in the past year:

  • Globally, 38 million people were living with HIV.
  • 25.4 million people were accessing antiretroviral therapy.
  • 1.7 million people became newly infected with HIV.
  • 690,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses in the past year.

Eswatini has the highest HIV prevalence in the world at 27.3New HIV infections are estimated to be higher among adolescents and young people aged 15 to 24 and affects mostly young girls.

In her message, UNAIDS Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, has noted that COVID-19 is threatening the progress that the world has made in health and development over the past 20 years, including the gains made against HIV.

We cannot afford to lose these gains and thus, we must come together in solidarity, to re-prioritise healthcare for all Emaswati, as it is our greatest weapon in our battles against the COVID-19 and AIDS pandemics.

Distinguished 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.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that the health crisis, like many others, is hitting the poorest and the most vulnerable the hardest.

We have seen the challenges faced by people living with HIV, by women and girls, and by key populations, in accessing life-saving health care, and how the crisis has widened the social and economic inequalities that increase the vulnerability of marginalized groups to HIV.

At the same time, this crisis has also been a wake-up call; an opportunity to do things differently: better and together.

We know that, to end AIDS and defeat COVID-19, we must prioritise healthcare for all, eliminate stigma and discrimination, put people at the centre and ground our responses in human rights and gender-responsive approaches.

Wealth should not determine whether people get the health care they need.  Now that there is talk of vaccines in the horizon, we need a COVID-19 vaccine and HIV treatments, as well as care that are affordable and available to everyone, everywhere.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen

Over the past year, the HIV stakeholders in Eswatini have mobilized to defend our HIV progress, to protect people living with HIV and other vulnerable groups, and to push the coronavirus back.

It is the strength within communities that has contributed in great part to our victories over HIV. Today, we need that strength and solidarity more than ever to beat the colliding epidemics of HIV and COVID-19.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen

It is time to prioritise and invest in resilient services and healthcare for all. Only global solidarity and shared responsibility will help us beat the coronavirus, end the AIDS epidemic and guarantee the right to health for all.

As Eswatini enters the last mile of action to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2022, everyone’s support and contribution is needed to reach the goal. It can be done! Ngiyabonga.

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