Statement by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka for World AIDS Day
Today we acknowledge the overall progress in the response to HIV and AIDS around the world. In the last 15 years, new HIV infections have fallen by 35 per cent, and AIDS-related deaths have been reduced by 42 per cent since their peak in 2004. We must maintain this momentum toward ending infection.
Yet, such progress is not uniform. There is an alarming rise in new infections amongst young women and adolescent girls. Around the world, adolescent girls and young women are now the hardest hit by HIV infections. In 2014, 3.9 million young people aged 15–24 years were living with HIV, and 58 per cent of these were female.
Adolescent girls are the only group in which AIDS-related deaths are increasing. In sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS is the leading cause of death amongst adolescent girls. This demands specific attention, and a collective strategy that confronts and arrests this trend.
Persistent gender inequalities and violence against women and girls, coupled with stigma, discrimination, punitive laws and harmful practices continue to put women — and especially young women — at higher risk of infection. This has to stop. The achievements in HIV treatment will mean nothing if HIV infections are not reduced in those at highest risk. One way to achieve this is to work on the barriers that stop women and girls demanding health care services and realizing their rights.
To break down those barriers for young women, we have to work on a multitude of interconnected aspects: we have to address the stereotypes that foster biases in institutions; change the policies, laws and programmes that stigmatize women living with HIV and inhibit the sharing of knowledge and information, and recognize and resolve the lack of education for women and adolescent girls that is critical to prevent infection. We must take immediate steps to invest in the empowerment of all women and girls so that they are fully able to make decisions related to their health.
This is the first commemoration of World AIDS Day since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Agenda’s Target 3.3 pledges to end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases by 2030. Each of the SDGs are interlinked and recognize gender equality as a critical factor to the achievement of all the goals.
The achievements so far are a direct result of the hard work, commitment and strong collaboration between all actors, and across all sectors, including civil society, government, the private sector and UN agencies across the world. On this World AIDS Day, UN Women reaffirms its commitment to ending the AIDS epidemic, achieving gender equality, and realizing the rights of all women and girls in the context of delivering on Agenda 2030.