Statement by Ambassador Thomas Zahneisen on the occasion of World AIDS Day, delivered at the event “Equalize: End Inequalities to End AIDS”, 1 December 2022
I am honored to speak at this important event today. I wondered why, but I have an idea. Germany will take over the chair of the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) next year. We are thankful for the trust of the membership and are very much looking forward to this important task.
World AIDS Day is always a moment of reflection. Allow me to speak on a personal note, what it means to me, and then to my country.
HIV/AIDS is very personal! Like many of my generation, my youth and early adulthood were marked by the arrival and the devastation of HIV/AIDS to our lifestyle and outlook on life. Like many in this room, I remember lost friends, people I knew and more distant community members. It was tough, but what happened to us in Germany pales in comparison to what African countries and society went though.
It was also a great part of my professional life. I started my career 1995 in Uganda and Rwanda, both had by then the highest HIV rates worldwide. In Southern Uganda you could see the devastating impact of war and conflict on the propagation of the disease. “Gender based violence” does not even reflect what happened in Rwanda. It was the deliberate use of mass rape by the perpetrators of the genocide against innumerable women and girls. I have seen the devastation with my own eyes but I have also seen how both countries were able to turn the tide.
21 years ago, I was the German expert at the “GA Special session on HIV/AIDS” This meeting was a real breakthrough in the global fight against the disease. We were able, for the first time, to strike a balance between Prevention/Education and addressing the needs of the already affected, esp. with regard to treatment.
Since then, we made remarkable progress, nationally and internationally. This is something we can truly be proud of, but we should not forget two things.
First, on the way we lost (more than 40) million amongst us to the disease, especially in Africa. This is a day to remember them. It is also a day to pay tribute to those how fought and reversed the tide, and to those who are living with the disease and continue to be active members of our society.
Second, we are thankfully far away from the apocalyptic predictions of the 90s, but the fight against the disease is far from over. There is no time for complacency. In fact, there is a real risk that we will not achieve our global target of eradicating HIV/AIDS as a global health threat by 2030.
We should not be surprised. We all know the drivers of HIV/AIDS. Certain groups of our global society continue to be at a higher risk of being exposed to infections than others. And, not everyone in our global society has the same ability to access basic services, health, education and necessary vital treatment in case of infection. This is why, this year, UNAIDS World AIDS Day rightly focuses on “Ending Inequalities to end Aids”.
The 2022 UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report clearly spells out these “dangerous inequalities”.
1. The gender dimension: Women account for 63% of new HIV infections in 2021in sub-Saharan Africa. Girls and young women between 15 and 24 have a three times higher risk getting HIV than males of the same age. Girls that drop out of school early have a higher risk to get HIV by up to 50%. On the other side only 70% of infected men access treatment compared to 80% of women.
2. The importance of armed conflict as driver for HIV infections. What happened in Uganda in the 90s, is still happening today, even close to the borders of my own country, in Ukraine.
3. More generally, the unequal access to basic services and treatment due to lack of development. Let’s face it, if you are poor, you risk is much higher.
4. We know all too well, who those vulnerable groups are, the groups that are systemically disadvantaged and often discriminated at, and thus require special attention and focus: people in same-sex relationships, transgender and gender non-conforming people, the LGBTI community. And there are the groups, that are running a particular high risk of infection because of their particular living conditions: sex workers, people who use drugs or prisoners-
And finally, we also know all too well what fighting these inequalities requires.
Addressing gender based violence, and structures behind it, in a forceful and systematic manner. Closely related, promoting healthy masculinities and gender-transformative programming must become the new norm.
Ensure access to HIV prevention information and services for everyone. Every investment in information, education, gender-equality and peace is an investment to end AIDS.
Moreover, crucially, putting decriminalizing of especially vulnerable and marginalized groups at the center of our activities. Without ending discrimination, we cannot end AIDS. For our part, Germany is committed to addressing these inequalities both domestically and internationally. With regard to international cooperation, Germany has adopted a Feminist Foreign Policy in 2021, but also a LGBTI Inclusion Strategy for Foreign Policy and Development Cooperation, precisely to better mainstream the gender dimension and the specific needs of the LGBTI community.
This is the situation. As the 2022 report says it very clearly, we are not on track, so we must maintain our focus and renew our efforts to end AIDS as a global public health threat by 2030.
We do not have to reinvent the wheel. We know the drivers, we know the instruments to address them, and we know the path to success: less inequality, more equalizing. This is our obligation from our collective commitment to the SDGs. It is also a commitment that we reiterated in 2021 in the political declaration at the UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on AIDS.
Speaking of my own country, Germany, we will continue our commitment to the global AIDS response. This year we pledged 1.3 billion Euro to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. This is a 30% increase from the last pledge. Over the past 4 years, Germany substantially increased its voluntary contributions to UNAIDS. Beyond the financial contributions, Germany will continue to support UNAIDS’ work wherever possible. We are very proud that a part of the UNAIDS has today offically been relocated to Bonn in Germany. We cherish this cooperation a lot!
And finally: the PCB Chair in 2023. We will continue to strive for transparency and accountability of the organization, support the unique governance structure that includes civil society and specifically people living with and affected by HIV, as PCB members, and we will support building on the unique experiences and lessons learnt of the AIDS response to leverage synergies with the broader health, development and human rights agendas.
World AIDS Day is a day of remembering and reflection, of what we collectively achieved in fighting this curse, which is truly remarkable, the many battles fought, the tireless efforts of so many activists, often themselves directly infected or affected by HIV/AIDAS, but also not to relent. We must walk the last mile together to achieve our common objective of ending HIV/AIDS as a global health threat by 2030.