Your Excellencies, Members of Parliament;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am very pleased to join you here today on this most important engagement. Leaving no one behind is very dear to our hearts, therefore the deliberations you are going to have today speak to the core of the Champions for an AIDS Free Generation Programme.
Ladies and gentlemen;
I bring you very warm greetings from the rest of the Champions group. Allow me to introduce to you the Champions for an AIDS Free Generation Program. We advocate at the highest political level of leadership, for a commitment to ending AIDS in Africa. The personalities that drive this program all come from the African continent.
We encourage fellow African leaders to step up efforts and commit to policies, laws and practices that are human-rights responsive and evidence-based in the national responses. We reinforce best practices on the continent and highlight progress made.
As Champions, we have especially allocated time and effort to engage legislatures in all the countries we have visited, and we have convened some of the regional bodies and groupings of parliamentarians. The reasons we have done so is that we are aware of the importance of their role in our national development, both parliament where they debate as a group and as representatives and voices of the people and also as they engage with the people in their individual constituencies.
We long recognised that without their involvement in AIDS and Health development, our nations cannot go far. We also recognised that the legislatures, as determined by their mandate, define laws, debate and pass budgets, monitor implementation and call government and the nation to account.
We are all in agreement, I hope, that we cannot claim to be moving towards ending AIDS if some sectors of our population are left behind in the effort, nor can we even claim to have ended it in the future. I hope that even you here, as representatives of our communities and countries carry the same conviction.
We have made tremendous progress in Africa in terms of preventing new infections and preventing deaths. In April 2015, we, as Champions, signed a declaration and committed to speaking out at all engagements and platforms, for leaving no one behind as we end AIDS. In this declaration, we call on our nations to achieve steeper declines in new infections; we call for focus on adolescent girls and young women and young men.
We commend the AU for defining the Catalytic Framework to end HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria by 2030 and fully stand behind it. The AU annual theme of Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through investment in youth would not have come at a most opportune time, when we can see the possibility for ending AIDS.
We have also called for ensuring that key populations such as people who inject drugs, sex workers and their clients, men who have sex with men, transgender people and prisoners, who are at much greater risk of acquiring HIV than adults in the general population, as well as migrants are not left behind.
We have therefore found it prudent to engage different leadership sectors in countries and the region on the importance of guaranteeing access to quality health and HIV services for all.
We have spoken out on punitive laws, policies and practices that hamper access to health and information, not only for key populations but also for young people such as their access to education, to sexual and reproductive health, on child marriages and sexual abuse.
We are concerned that so many years later we are still grappling with stigma and discrimination, which we know and have proof that it is one of the potent drivers of new infections and deaths. As our leaders, Your Excellencies, it is incumbent upon you to publicly denounce these practices, laws and policies and address them head on in different fora with your fellow legislatures and in your constituencies and at all times.
We believe that one of the key roles of leaders is to protect the vulnerable and therefore call on you to hold this dear to your hearts. The attainment of Sustainable Development Goals will be greatly compromised if anyone is left behind.
My fellow Champions and I have tirelessly expressed our concern regarding the complacency and inaction that have characterised our leaders, development partners and donors. It seems that AIDS came and went, that the health system is coping well. We have seen this complacency resulting in reductions and stagnations in domestic and external funding for AIDS and health in Africa.
We have also observed the slow progress in increase of our domestic allocations. All of these are happening at the time when we have made significant but vulnerable progress that can very easily change our course to where we do not want to be.
More than a decade ago one of our Champions, President Obasanjo, convened African leaders in Abuja where a milestone of commitment of 15% of the national budget was to be spent on health, a commitment that was re-affirmed in 2010 in Kampala.
This was a critical decision, especially designed to increase domestic funding for health and address infectious diseases hampering the development of the continent. Importantly it was also a strong stance on ownership of the health issues in the continent. We now have proof from our past experiences that if we have a sustained and incremental investment – both national and international – then our benefit will be greater in the future.
I am encouraged that today our continental legislature is here to dialogue on this very pertinent matter of Africa taking ownership of its health through increased domestic financing and commodity security. We strongly believe that the legislature has the responsibility and great potential to do so.
We are told that the World Bank expects that most African countries will reach “middle income” status by 2025. We also know that Africa boasts the largest young population. Herein lies the greatest opportunity for a breakthrough, for, as the economies of our countries grow, so should their domestic allocations to HIV and health.
Our greatest source of optimism for Africa therefore is our youth. Africa cannot do it alone. HIV and health are global challenges and should be a shared responsibility. Efforts to mobilise both domestic and international investments must be maximized. We commend the AU for its demonstration of leadership, by defining the Catalytic Framework to end HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria by 2030 and as Champions, we fully stand behind it.
Operationalising this framework is the annual theme of Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through investment in youth. This has come at a most opportune time, when we can see the possibility for ending AIDS. We have made great progress in the past and have seen commendable reductions in new infections and deaths.
We have seen commendable support from our development partners and donors. We are concerned however that in the recent years, complacency and a shift of priorities away from HIV and health is playing itself out both among our leaders and international partners and donors.
We are seeing a diversion of funding away from HIV and health to other competing priorities. The first to be sacrificed has been prevention. Your Excellencies, prevention prevention prevention is key. This should be your mantra. We cannot keep piling on efforts while the tap of new infections remains open, otherwise we will never win against HIV.
We must focus our efforts on prevention strategies that work and work tirelessly to find new and additional ones. Most critically we must ensure that allocations to prevention reflect this priority. Even as we do so, we must recognise the damage AIDS has had on our health systems and how it has been compromised to operate maximally.
As Champions and for most of you here, we have lived in the early stages of AIDS when it was decimating our populations and bringing our economies to their knees. We have seen the real truth about AIDS. We know that failure to fund AIDS is failure to save lives and failure to end AIDS. National and international partners and donors have to remain engaged and be committed and creative in mobilising the resources required to save lives and end AIDS.
I do not wish to take up too much of your time for these critical deliberations. I wish to end by wishing you open, frank and progressive deliberations that will help to change the trajectory of AIDS for the betterment of our continent’s health and development.
Our message to you is that for Africa, AIDS is not yet over, it is still very much among us. However, we are now armed with knowledge of what needs to be done and how our leaders can lead our nations and continent to ending AIDS and maximising our health benefits and Africa’s demographic dividend – our youth. We know that we cannot continue to isolate HIV and that we need to ensure its integration into broader health, social and community systems and development.
Your Excellencies, you are needed, more than ever to achieve the Sustainability Development Goals, 2016 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS as well as the UNAIDS Fast-Track targets by 2020. Achieving these is key to ending AIDS, health as well as social development of our continent.
We keenly await conclusions of your dialogue and how you intend to take the debates and actions forward in your different Parliamentary committees and caucuses and in your constituencies. We, as Champions, commit our unwavering support in this endeavour and will call on you periodically, for encouragement and support as you make progress on moving these pertinent issues forwards.
We believe that this is the challenge upon which depends the future of our continent, and that all of us working together have the power to eradicate this menace from our midst once and for all.
I thank you for your kind attention.