2009 Opening Address by Peter Power, T.D., Minister of State for Overseas Development

The Minister of State for Overseas Development, Peter Power, T.D., gave the opening address to mark the 21st Annual World AIDS Day at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin.  His speech reflected on the current progress and future challenges in achieving the goal of Universal Access to prevention against HIV/AIDS. Particularly, Minister Power, called attention to the burden suffered by women and girls, as well as the recent biomedical developments of ongoing vaccination trials worldwide.

The following is the full text of the draft of Minister Power’s speech:

Draft Speech for Minister of State for Overseas Development, Peter Power, T.D. to open the Father Michael Kelly Lecture to mark World AIDS Day, 2009

Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

I am delighted to be here today to mark the 21st Anniversary of World AIDS Day. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Professor Frank Keane and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland for co-hosting this important event.

Today’s lecture is in honour of Fr Michael Kelly.

Many of you will know Fr. Michael Kelly, a long time friend of Irish Aid and a world-renowned expert on addressing HIV and AIDS through the education sector. Fr. Michael continues to inform the work of Irish Aid with his extraordinary insight into the complexity of HIV and AIDS, while inspiring us with his integrity and compassion.

While Michael unfortunately can’t be with us here today, I am delighted that he has recorded a special video message for us and we will be hearing his message shortly.

I am also particularly pleased to welcome Dr Seth Berkley, the President of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

Thank you for joining us today Seth, and for sharing your experience of over 13 years of dynamic and tireless work in promoting the development of an AIDS vaccine. And thank you also for keeping this issue high on the international agenda.

It is over twenty years since the global community started to mark World AIDS Day. And it is nearly thirty years since HIV was first discovered.

It is evident that, even after all this time, we have not yet made sufficient progress in addressing the global HIV and AIDS pandemic.

Over 33 million people worldwide are living with HIV, and many millions more are affected by its impact. On World AIDS Day we reaffirm our solidarity with all those infected and affected. It also reminds us of the need to strengthen our resolve to sustain the international response to the pandemic.

Although every country has been affected by the AIDS pandemic, it is without a doubt that the brunt of it has been taken by poor and developing nations.

The human and social tragedy of HIV in these countries comes on top of the growing challenges posed by climate change and increased food insecurity.

Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the most severely affected region. It is home to over 22 million people living with HIV, or two thirds of the global total.

Within these countries, the toll is highest on the most vulnerable members of the community, in particular women and children.

The theme of this year’s lecture is “Universal Access to Prevention: Making it Work for Women”.

Approximately 60 percent of those infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are women. Ireland recognises that gender inequality and the subordination of women and girls is the key driver of the epidemic. It is therefore crucial that we do what we can to protect women and girls.

With this specifically in mind, Irish Aid has been funding the International Partnership for Microbicides since 2002, with a total of over 20 million Euro. Microbicides are products that empower women to protect themselves from acquiring HIV in a culturally acceptable way.

Over the past decade there has been notable progress in a number of areas. We can see that our efforts are making a difference.

There is a growing international recognition of the threat that HIV and AIDS poses to economic and social development.

There is now more political commitment, more funding and an increase in the number of global players committed to HIV control than ever before. The Global Fund has just approved a further 2.4 Billion US dollars for the next 2 years.

Over 4 million people are now receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS globally, thus contributing significantly to higher life expectancy and better quality of life. According to the latest UN epidemic update, new HIV infections have been reduced by 17% over the past eight years.

However, also according to the UN, for every two people who receive treatment, five more people are newly infected. It is estimated that there are 7,400 new infections every day.

Furthermore, the current financial and economic crisis is having a serious impact around the world. The harsh reality is that this will be felt most severely in the already brittle economies of the AIDS ravaged sub-Saharan Africa.

It is no coincidence that these countries are the focus of Ireland’s overseas development programme.

This combination of crises makes it heartbreakingly clear that we need better preventive tools, and especially an effective vaccine, for true impact against the pandemic.

Although the journey towards the development of a safe and effective vaccine will no doubt be long and arduous, the value-for-money, the immense good from a humanitarian perspective, and the indisputable benefit to society of such a vaccine make that journey one we must undertake.

HIV and AIDS is a priority for Ireland, as set out in the White Paper on Irish Aid.

Ireland is one of the most generous countries in the world in terms of the proportion of our GDP allocated to the struggle against AIDS and other communicable diseases. We spend over 100 million euros annually combating AIDS and communicable diseases.

Irish Aid is in the process of finalising a revised HIV and AIDS strategy, which is nested firmly in the global response to HIV and AIDS.

We place high value on partnership in responding to this great challenge. Partnership across Government Departments, with civil society and research institutes is essential to ensure a coherent and consistent response from Ireland.

Our partnership with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative is one such example.

We applaud IAVI’s excellent scientific team, and the 20,000 volunteers enrolled in AIDS vaccine trials around the world. The recent progress in the development of an effective vaccine is testament to the success of this partnership.

I am proud to say that Ireland has provided over 20 million Euro to this initiative since 2002.

Irish Aid will ensure a continued strong focus on AIDS affected individuals, households and communities in our revised HIV/AIDS strategy.

Our response will have a particular focus on women, as women are the most affected by HIV and AIDS while also bearing the greatest burden of care for those succumbing to the virus.

Women are the unsung heroes of the African continent. Unfortunately, they are made particularly vulnerable by the AIDS epidemic, and we must make every effort possible to protect them and safeguard future generations.

We therefore hope that the development of a vaccine that can be launched globally, and in all settings, will become a key link towards achieving that goal of Universal Access to prevention against HIV and AIDS.

Thank you for your attention, and for participating in this meeting today. I hope that together we can continue to develop Ireland’s response to the global challenge that the HIV/AIDS pandemic entails.

And maybe provide real hope for the very first time of defeating this terrible threat to humankind once and for all.

Thank you.

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