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2020 World AIDS Day: Global solidarity, shared responsibility

Ms. Amakobe Sande is the United Nations Resident Coordinator a.i. in China.


This year's World AIDS Day is like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the progress that the world has made in health and development, including the gains we have made against HIV over the past four decades. This year the theme of World AIDS Day is "Global solidarity, shared responsibility".


Over the past year the HIV movement has mobilized to defend our progress, to protect people living with HIV and other vulnerable groups and to push the coronavirus back. In China, we witnessed solidarity and shared responsibility between government and community groups in ensuring continuity of HIV services even during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such efforts included ensuring multi-month dispensing of HIV treatment; organizing deliveries of treatment and prevention commodities to people living with HIV; and providing financial assistance, psychosocial support and essential personal protection equipment to at-risk groups. These acts of solidarity and shared responsibility were also extended to the world with China sharing its experiences of responding to HIV with other developing countries. 


It is the sheer determination of the Chinese government, the solidarity of community groups, the dedication of health practitioners and the shared responsibility of all Chinese people that made the impossible possible during this difficult time and I salute you all!


But we know that we cannot rest on our laurels especially because we are now fighting two colliding epidemics of HIV and COVID-19. As the Secretary-General said in his World AIDS Day Statement:


"Despite significant successes, the AIDS emergency is not over. HIV still infects 1.7 million people each year and kills some 690,000. And inequalities mean that those who are the least able to stand up for their rights are still the most affected."


In responding to COVID-19, the world cannot make the same mistakes it made in the fight against HIV. 


I still remember the early years of the AIDS pandemic when millions of people in developing countries died while waiting for HIV treatment which was available in richer countries. Even today, more than 12 million people are still waiting to access HIV treatment. 


That is why UNAIDS, with the strong support of the secretary-general of the United Nations has been calling for a People's Vaccine against the coronavirus and they are supported by a growing list of current and former heads of state who have signed up to support this call.


Global problems need global solidarity. 


As the first COVID-19 vaccine candidates become available, there are serious threats to ensuring equitable access. The United Nations commends China for joining the COVAX facility and salutes China's commitment that a vaccine produced in the country will become a global public good. Wealth should not determine whether people get the health care they need. We need a COVID-19 vaccine (and HIV treatments and care) that are affordable and available to everyone, everywhere.


Our goal of ending the AIDS epidemic was already off track before COVID-19. We must now put people first to get the AIDS response back on track. We must end the social injustices that put people at risk of contracting HIV. And we must fight for the right to health and ensure universal access. Barriers such as up-front user fees that lock people out of health must come down. 


Women and girls must have their human rights fully respected, and the criminalization and marginalization of gay men, transgender people, sex workers and people who use drugs must stop.


In China, I hope to see evidence-based, age appropriate comprehensive sexuality education and early testing and treatment keep young people away from HIV; I hope to see all babies of HIV positive mothers being delivered HIV free; I hope to see people living with HIV have access to good quality medicines with less side-effects, so they can have a better quality of life and contribute fully to their families and societies and I hope to see fear, stigma and discrimination dismantled. These are not my wishes alone but the wishes of all people living with HIV. 


I hope the new 14th Five Year sector plan for HIV and AIDS reflects all these aspirations as well as the new targets for 2025 just released by UNAIDS in the World AIDS Day 2020 report titled "Prevailing Against Pandemics by Putting People at the Centre."


A new Global AIDS Strategy will be approved at the UNAIDS board meeting next month and taken to the United Nations High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS in June 2021. The United Nations Joint Programme on HIV and AIDS stands ready to support China's efforts and looks to China for its support and solidarity for the Global AIDS Strategy and the High-Level Meeting in June.


Only global solidarity and shared responsibility will help us beat the coronavirus, end the AIDS epidemic and guarantee the right to health for all.          


This piece has also been published on China Daily, CGTN, China.org and Sina News

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