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FATHER MICHAEL’S 2015 INTRODUCTORY ADDRESS: KEEPING HIV AND AIDS ON THE AGENDA

Father Michael was unable to attend the 2015 Lecture in person, and instead delivered a pre-recorded introductory address by video from Lusaka.

The 2015 Lecture was opened by Professor Ruairi Brugha, Head of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health Medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. You can view Professor Brugha’s opening remarks by clicking the video below:

Subsequently, the Director-General of Irish Aid, Michael Gaffey provided an introduction to Father Michael, which can be viewed below:

Father Michael’s address was then played, in which he welcomed attendees to the lecture, and reflected on global progress on HIV and AIDS treatment since the lecture series began in 2006. Father Michael also gave an introduction to the two guest speakers, Professor Sheila Dinotshe Tlou, and Sister Dr. Miriam Duggan.  Please click the image below to view his address in full:

Please also find below a transcript of Father Michael’s address:

Michael Kelly, S.J., Lusaka, Zambia, November 2015

“Chair, Ladies and Gentlemen: Although I’m speaking from a great distance, it gives me great pleasure to welcome all of you to this year’s annual AIDS event and lecture. I am especially delighted to welcome once more Professor Sheila Tlou, the UNAIDS representative for Southern Africa. Many of you will remember Professor Tlou’s inspiring words when she spoke to us in this gathering a few years ago about HIV and women. I am sure you will be equally inspired this evening by what she will say on the AIDS epidemic, especially in the way it affects southern Africa and what needs to be done to reverse and completely overcome it.

It is also a great pleasure and honour to welcome the great AIDS activist, Sister Miriam Duggan, to whom countless people, in Uganda and elsewhere, owe it that they are still alive today. Sr. Miriam’s current focus on responding to the HIV risks and concerns of injecting-drug-users has surely equipped her to speak very knowingly and trenchantly on an issue that is of concern worldwide, including in Ireland.

Through the great generosity and foresight of the Irish people, represented by the Government and Irish Aid, this lecture series began in 2006. At that time the world was just beginning to cope with AIDS through more affordable and easier access to the drugs that keep HIV in check – the anti-retrovirals or ARVs, as they are called. But things were very bad then. In fact, the highest ever annual number of AIDS-related deaths was recorded in 2005, the year before the first of these annual AIDS events. But since then the number of such deaths has fallen, the number of new infections each year is becoming less, and a person living with HIV today has a much better prospect of living a healthy and productive life than such a person would have had in 2005.

But the AIDS pandemic is far from being ended. The bright day when we may say that it is over may come by 2030 but although UNAIDS is working hard towards that, 2030 is still a long way off. And the hopes for 2030 will not materialize unless the world continues to take account of the disease and continues to keep it high on national and international agendas. And that is the theme of this evening’s gathering – keep HIV and AIDS high on the national agenda; ensure the resources needed not only to maintain but also to expand the present level of response; make HIV testing readily available to every person; make anti-retroviral drugs available to every infected person from the moment they are known to have the disease; and take realistic measures to ensure the nutritional status of those who are on these drugs.

This last is a vital point. As with so many other medicines, the AIDS drugs have to be taken with food or after food. But it is a real tragedy that so many people with HIV can access the drugs but don’t have enough food to be able to absorb them and let them get on with strengthening their immune systems. Although my circle of contacts is now very limited, twice in the last week I have had people coming to me, telling me that they had not eaten for two or more days and so could not take their ARVs. Nothing could be more harmful to them.

And another good reason for keeping HIV high on the agenda was given in a documentary on young people and development in Zambia, broadcast from Dublin by Newstalk on 21st November. There, the co-founder of a student-run agency told us that in Zambia three young people between the ages of 18 and 24 become infected with HIV every hour. That adds up to more than 25,000 in a year, and that is happening today. For the sake of these and similar young people, we simply must keep HIV and AIDS on the agenda and not take it off until every country in the world has totally eliminated this abominable disease.

And let me share with you one innovative way in which Zambia is keeping HIV high on its agenda. I am speaking from Lusaka on 27th November. This coming weekend a large pop concert will be held in the Lusaka Show-grounds with many international artists. Admission to the concert is free for those who can show that they were recently tested for HIV. To facilitate this, special testing facilities, with associated entertainments and something of the air of a circus, have been set up in a number of townships and are being steadily patronized by those who want to get their free admission tickets to the great musical show. A wonderfully imaginative way of increasing HIV testing and of reaching out to young people. And a great way to keep HIV high on the agendas of communities as well as of state agencies.

The Irish Government has taken steps in the same direction. When this lecture series started in 2006, the original intention was to let it run for five years. But as the epidemic persisted, the Government decided with great foresight to keep the event going indefinitely so as to keep concern with HIV and AIDS alive in the national consciousness and, hopefully, also in the resource allocation process. This is a strong national assertion that Ireland will not turn its back on this massive humanitarian problem; that it will not sweep it under the carpet. Hopefully this strong commitment to remembering and talking about HIV and AIDS will also be matched by an equally strong commitment to channeling financial and human resources to where they can be best used in responding to what is still a devastating epidemic.

Chair, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me end by thanking all of you once more for your presence this evening, and let me beg of you to keep this disease high not only on the national agenda but also among your personal concerns. Put people first. It is human beings who are enduring the horrors of this disease – parents, academics, young people, and others like yourselves. Never forget them so long as just one person remains infected with HIV.

And now let me hand you on to our two speakers, Professor Tlou and Sr. Miriam, whom you have come to hear. It’s possible that some of their words may sadden you, but I feel sure it will also hearten you to learn that so much has been done, even though there’s need for an awful lot more.

Once again I thank you for your presence tonight. With two such distinguished speakers you will surely have a very informative and inspirational evening. And when it is over, I wish each of you a safe journey home and a very happy and blessed Christmas with your loved ones. Thank you, and may God bless all of you.”

Irish-Zambian HIV/AIDS activist, educator and advocate. This site archives Fr. Michael's inspirational World AIDS Day Lectures and related materials.