1. HIV and AIDS is still with us. While we do not underestimate the substantial amount of work that has been done and what has been achieved in stabilizing the situation and converting what was a killer disease into a chronic one with which a person can live with, we nevertheless still recognize that there is still a long way to go.
2. We have more people on Treatment today but still many are waiting. We have less infections but still 1.8 million new infections in 2017 are too many and this can be prevented. We are still dealing with stigma in many parts of the world. Key populations, adolescents, young women and girls still suffer. Yet the world that has the resources, the science and other means to prevent HIV infection and treat AIDS. NO ONE MUST BE LEFT BEHIND!
3. The bottlenecks to ending AIDS continue to concern us and continue to confirm to us that our job is not yet completed. In 2008, we took the initiative and decided to come together as Former Presidents, together with other influential African leaders and eminent persons under the banner of Champions for an AIDS-Free Generation, with a view to drive further the ideal of ending AIDS.
4. With almost all of us from Commonwealth countries, we have committed ourselves to rally national and regional leadership to tackle this public health threat - AIDS. We consider ourselves as transcending political partisanship, speaking freely and independently about the issues and blockages to ending AIDS. We contend that national and regional leaders must address the issues relating to HIV and AIDS - both publicly and behind the scenes.
5. We are encouraged that Africa has made positive progress in a lot of areas in the AIDS response. These include substantial decreases in new HIV infections, improvements in access to life-saving treatment and decreases in the number of deaths.
6. However, the current pace of Africa’s response to HIV is too slow to keep up with the continent’s fast-expanding young population that needs to be healthy and productive if Africa is to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We believe that there are areas of blockages for progress that need to be addressed urgently if we are to win.
7. This year marks 10 years since we established the Champions for an AIDs Free Generation programme. Our aim of attaining an AIDS free generation in our lifetime remains relevant.
8. Last year – in 2017 – we took stock of our work – reflecting on the milestones as well as the challenges in our work, in our quest towards an AIDS-free generation. It was from that exercise that we decided to sharpen our focus to take on other complex issues that have demonstrably continued to challenge us in ending AIDS. These include expanding access to HIV treatment and care for key populations and LGBTI people and young women and girls. We are committed to ensuring that no one is left behind in ending AIDS.
9. To this end, we have identified two main areas of focus for our advocacy. The first being increased commitment to domestic investments for HIV and health, global solidarity and sustainability of the response. The second area is increased commitment to address political, social and legal barriers and blockages to fast track the response in Africa. We have prioritised key and marginalised populations such as Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBTI), adolescent girls and young women, drug users, prisoners and sex workers.
Ladies and Gentlemen;
10. The focus on “Improving Quality of Life for People Living with HIV” in today’s deliberations sums up our concerns in this area of work. Our understanding, as Champions is that the quality of life for people living with HIV does not end at provision of treatment and resultant averting of death. It is much broader, including ending the stigma and discrimination in health facilities and homes, addressing discriminatory laws that hinder people from seeking medical care and support, and ending violence perpetrated against key populations especially LGBTI people and young women and girls. These are some of the worrying factors that impact negatively on the quality of life of people living with HIV.
6. Ladies and gentlemen, I need not overemphasize the fact that inclusivity in the AIDS response remains paramount. This is very key for us as the Champions. I can confirm that we have visited several of our countries in Africa and actively engaged national leaders, including Heads of State & Government, Parliamentarians; traditional and faith-based leaders, as well as leaders in civil society on these issues. We will continue to do so, as we believe that leadership holds the key to ending AIDS.
7. As we engage with leaders at the national level, respectively, we raise our concerns on the barriers that we continue to face in ending AIDS. We have noted that these barriers come in many forms. They include laws that criminalize behaviour of key populations, especially LGBTI people, policies that deny girls and young women opportunities to seek healthcare, stigma, discrimination and violence that continue to plague our marginalised and vulnerable people.
8. We are informed that the 6th Global Fund replenishment preparations are ongoing and urge for a strong reflection of these pertinent barriers in the plans.
11. The international theme for this year’s World AIDS Day commemoration “know your status” is very close to our hearts. Hashtag know your status!
12. It is only when people know their status that new infections can be curbed, that people who are HIV positive can be linked to quality care and that those who are negative can remain so by accessing quality prevention services.
13. Ladies and gentlemen, in 2001 I addressed the UN General Assembly and appealed to the international community to help save my country – Botswana - from annihilation by AIDS.
14. People were dying in their thousands and without treatment. We have made commendable progress since then. However, we are informed through the latest UNAIDS 2018 report entitled “Knowledge is power” that the treatment gap continues to be unacceptably high. A large part of our population still does not know their HIV status, and cannot, therefore, take advantage of the life-saving treatment. Again, a part of our populations who are living with HIV, who should be on treatment, are not.
15. In addressing these complex issues that hinder the attainment of an AIDS free generation, as Champions, we continue to advocate to national, regional and international leaders and partners for increased effort and support in sustaining the response. We believe that increased commitment for funding the response, including increasing the domestic investment in the HIV response, are key to ending AIDS.
16. The shrinking external resources coupled with the stagnant or slight increases in domestic investment in health and HIV and increasing new infections is resulting in a continually widening resource gap between what is required and what is available.
17. African leaders must heighten their commitment to identify and expand domestic resources, protect funding available and optimize our investments by finding efficiencies. However, Africa cannot end AIDS alone. We as national and global leaders and partners have a responsibility to ensure that we continue to sustain the HIV and AIDS response if we are to win.
18. The widespread mobilization efforts and solidarity to prevent infection and provide care to those already infected has slowed. This has lulled us into complacency because we assumed our achievement will last forever. As Champions we remain very concerned that if we continue in this manner and pace, AIDS will revert to where its challenges were insurmountable. In fact, we are beginning to see this emerge, we are seeing new infection rising in countries where they were already on a downward trend.
19. Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, I wish to leave you with this message from the Champions, that we are in the remaining miles of our journey to ending AIDS and we cannot afford to compromise our achievements by disengaging or resting, since we know for sure that we will revert to where we were and lose all our gains. We implore our partners to recognise that AIDS is not yet over in Africa and that Africa cannot end AIDS by itself.
20. AIDS is a global problem and needs to be addressed as such. The legacy of our leaders, especially parliamentarians, must be reflected in their progressive efforts for the betterment of our societies and the world.
*SPEECH BY H.E. FESTUS G. MOGAE, FORMER PRESIDENT OF BOTSWANA & CHAIRMAN CHAMPIONS FOR AN AIDS FREE GENERATION AT THE WORLD AIDS DAY PARLIAMENTARY RECEPTION