Closing Remarks of Mr. Luc Stevens, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative

29 Nov 2012

Regional Workshop: HIV/AIDS Health Care Services in Universal Health Coverage Pullman King Power Hotel

Honored Guests from Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Philippines, Fellow UN Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to speak with you once again. Let me first thank you for participating in this Regional Workshop. Your thoughts, opinions, and expertise are so important to us—and to the millions of people in our region living with HIV.

On behalf of UNDP, I would like to thank the National Health Security Office and Secretary General Dr. Winai Sawasdivorn for co-hosting this workshop. We also appreciate our continued partnership with Thailand’s International Development Cooperation Agency and Director-General Mr. Piroon Lai-smit. Thailand’s leadership on South-South Cooperation and policy expertise on HIV/AIDS and Universal Health Coverage is a model for the ASEAN community and the Asia-Pacific region. The United Nations applauds Thailand for its rights-oriented approach to health care and for the extraordinary contributions to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s global vision—to bring an end to AIDS.

We are now just two days from marking World AIDS Day. Every year since 1988, we remember those who have died, show support for people living with HIV, and measure our progress. As much as we like reading positive stories about our successes, there are just as many stories with numbers that are painful reminders of the work that still remains.

In Asia, the number of people living with HIV has nearly doubled over the last decade. New dangers are beginning to form, as the virus is spreading among transgendered persons, men who have sex with men (or MSM), and injecting drug users.

In Thailand, more than 500,000 people are living with HIV—including 14,000 children. Every year, 10,000 people are infected and over the next 5 years some 43,000 more are expected.

In urban areas of Thailand, MSM and transgendered persons are 20 times more likely to be living with HIV. Among those living with HIV in Thailand, over 16 percent come from the MSM community. In Bangkok it is over 30 percent.

While the world shows a decline in HIV/AIDS transmission, our region is still at risk. Higher rates of infection were reported in the Philippines and Indonesia. Like Bangkok, HIV among MSM in Manila is 13 times higher than the rest of the country.

But where there is darkness, there is also light. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has recently accepted a role with UNAIDS to advance efforts to eliminate stigma and discrimination. She will be a powerful advocate for the more than 200,000 people living with HIV in Myanmar. The Ministry of Health has committed to work toward eliminating new HIV infections among children by 2015. Myanmar’s National AIDS Programme has also been building up its HIV prevention services for pregnant women. Last year, 3000 pregnant women living with HIV received antiretroviral treatment to prevent transmission of HIV to their babies.

In Cambodia, there is also good news. Cambodia joined a long list of countries where new infection rates have declined, including Myanmar and Thailand. Cambodia’s successes are the result of national commitment by the Prime Minister and the First Lady. New policies are being drafted to make it easier to reach the MSM and transgender communities. Cambodia is also developing a new health financing policy with a vision to provide universal access to health coverage.

In the Philippines, a Universal Health Care program, established last year, aimed at improving access to health facilities, meet MDG targets, and lower health care costs—all by 2016. ARV treatment for people living with HIV is free of charge, with funding provided by the national government.

Indonesia is scaling up HIV testing and treatment programmes in response to the UN’s Getting to Zero vision. Indonesia will focus on 141 key districts where affected populations are the highest. Indonesia is also considered a best practice on Universal Health Coverage. Indonesia is taking an active role in the AIDS response in Asia. As the chair of the ASEAN summit last year, Indonesia pushed for the adoption of the ASEAN Declaration of Commitment in Getting to Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS-related deaths.

Health is a fundamental human right and I am proud of the progress we have made. “Thank you” to all of you and your governments.

But it isn’t the end of the story or the only challenge we still face. Since the first case of HIV/AIDS was discovered decades ago, some are still afraid of it, some still ridicule and disparage those who have it, and some still distance themselves from those they believe have it. Stigma and discrimination remain huge barriers to access to prevention and treatment services especially among key affected people.

Stigma and discrimination fuels HIV infection and reduces the quality of life of those infected and affected by it. And it must stop.

The United Nations takes HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination seriously. And I know you do, too. One case of discrimination is too many. One person not getting the care they need is too many. Our role as public servants, as doctors, or as development professionals, is to bring an end to this injustice.

In his message for World AIDS Day 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has a message for all of you: “Zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths by 2015 are achievable. On World AIDS Day, let us commit to build on and amplify the encouraging successes of recent years to consign HIV/AIDS to the pages of history.”

As we leave here, let us think about where we want to go together. What do we want to achieve next year and in the years to come? How will the work we’ve done together in Bangkok this week have a national impact? How will our new partnership help us meet MDG targets by 2015?

My friends, we have a shared responsibility to uphold human rights, a shared responsibility to lift up the millions of people living with HIV—to get them the treatment they need--to shield them from indignity, prejudice, and discrimination. A collective approach to health coverage and health financing are good places to start.

We cannot fight AIDS alone. We must learn from one another. Shared responsibility is the path to ending this epidemic once and for all. While nations must take national ownership of the goals they’ve set, we must think collectively about how we’ll approach the fight against HIV in the post-2015 era.

This workshop was a small but important step in a long journey. Let’s take comfort in the fact that we won’t be walking alone. We are all making this journey together.

I thank you and I wish you all well.