Director-General holds Information Meeting on HIV and AIDS

Director-General holds Information Meeting on HIV and AIDS
  • © UNESCO/M. Ravassard

On 18 November 2008, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, held an Information Meeting for Permanent Delegations on HIV and AIDS with the participation of Dr Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, and Lady Cristina Owen-Jones, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for HIV and AIDS Prevention Education.

The Director-General began by paying warm tribute to Dr Piot’s leadership of UNAIDS over the past thirteen years, and the latter’s tireless efforts to promote a stronger response to HIV and AIDS by the United Nations and the world. Mr Matsuura noted that many significant milestones had been reached under Dr Piot’s leadership. “Twenty-seven years into the epidemic, we are able to report that the world is, at last, making some real progress in its response to AIDS. Since 2000 the percentage of people living with HIV has levelled off in many parts of the world. The annual rate of new infections has stabilized and is finally beginning to decline in a number of countries. In addition, fewer people are dying today as a result of AIDS. Last year alone, one million people gained access to life-prolonging antiretroviral treatment in the developing world, raising the total to 3 million on therapy at the end of 2007”, the Director-General informed delegates.

However, Mr Matsuura warned against complacency, stating that despite significant progress, the number of HIV infections continues to outstrip the advances made in treatment numbers. For every two persons put on antiretroviral drugs, another five become infected”. In this context, Mr Matsuura argued that prevention efforts needed to be dramatically scaled up, explaining that this was the main focus of UNESCO’s strategy on HIV and AIDS, with a particular emphasis on prevention education.

The Director-General traced the history and expansion of the UNAIDS Global Initiative on Education and HIV and AIDS (EDUCAIDS), led by UNESCO, which provides a framework for support to Member States in implementing a comprehensive education sector response to the epidemic. Today, more than 50 countries are involved in the initiative, with more Member States expressing an interest. UNESCO has distributed around 13,000 EDUCAIDS Resource Packs providing ministries and other partners with technical guidance on how to develop and implement policies for education and HIV and how to determine resource allocations. The Organization is also reinforcing its field presence to support Member States in these areas, with a particular focus on sub-Saharan Africa, which remains the most adversely affected area.

The Director-General noted that one of the major challenges in terms of prevention education was to stem the sexual transmission of HIV, which now accounts for over 90% of new infections worldwide. He said that knowledge about HIV transmission was “shockingly low”, with only 40 percent of males and 38 percent of females between the ages of 15 and 24 being able to report correct knowledge about how HIV is passed on. To address this knowledge gap, UNESCO has established a Global Advisory Group on Sex, Relationships, and HIV Education, which held its first meeting in December 2007. Mr Matsuura also welcomed the outcomes of the first-ever meeting this August of Ministers of Health and Education in Latin America and the Caribbean aimed at halting the spread of HIV in the region. Ministers adopted an ambitious and wide-ranging Declaration committing themselves to deliver comprehensive sex education throughout the region. “It now remains for the rest of the world to commit to similar action”, Mr Matsuura said.

The Director-General concluded that he believed UNESCO was on “the right track” towards maximizing its contribution to international efforts to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support under the strong leadership of UNAIDS.

In his address, Dr Piot reaffirmed the importance of UNESCO’s emphasis on prevention in the fight against HIV and AIDS, which he said “must become a priority”. Building on UNESCO’s good work in this area, he said that the goal must be an “HIV free new generation within the next 10 to 20 years”. Dr Piot argued that while progress had been made, “AIDS was not over anywhere”. He said that now that we know what can be achieved with clear and sensible targets, strong political commitment and concerted international support, the challenge is to sustain the momentum. “We have made the first positive step; we must not give up our efforts”, he urged.

Dr Piot also commented that progress on tackling HIV and AIDS had lessons for development efforts more broadly. He argued the importance of a rights-based approach with a strong focus on equity. He underscored the need for multilateral cooperation, arguing that the UNAIDS partnership had been a pioneer in recent efforts towards greater UN system-wide coherence and efficiency. He also noted the importance of engaging other actors, beyond the multilateral system, notably civil society partners.

For her part, Lady Owen-Jones informed delegates of her efforts as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador to help build links with the private sector and NGOs. She provided an update on the work of the joint UNESCO-L’Oréal programme “Hairdressers against AIDS”. She also drew attention to UNESCO’s new partnership with the Virginio Bruni-Tedeschi Foundation, which is enabling the Organization to significantly scale up its action through EDUCAIDS in four southern African countries particularly hard hit by AIDS – Angola, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland.

  • Author(s):Office of the Spokesperson
  • Source:Flash Info N° 165-2008
  • 19-11-2008
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