Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of World AIDS Day
1 December 2020
If COVID-19 has highlighted one thing, it is how the devastating power of viruses can be amplified by inequalities. With the pandemic, we have seen, once again, how health is interlinked with societal issues; how health affects and is affected by prejudice, discrimination and human rights. Fighting the disease means fighting the spread of the virus. However, it also means fighting the infinitely complex fault lines that permeate our societies.
This belief also underpins our historic commitment to the fight against HIV and AIDS.
HIV, which continues to be a major public health concern, is perpetuated by structural inequalities, including gender inequality. Young women are 60% more likely to become newly infected with HIV than young men of the same age, and AIDS continues to be a leading cause of death among women and girls aged between 15 and 49.
Harmful norms around masculinity also contribute to the epidemic: men are less likely to seek health services than women, and young men over the age of 15 years are less likely than women to access HIV testing and treatment, or to attain viral suppression.
Education, because it has the power to transform societies, is one way we can support science and fight stigma. This is why UNESCO has joined forces with UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF and UN Women as part of an initiative called “Education Plus”. This initiative seeks to change the course of the epidemic and make a real impact on education and health outcomes for adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa by calling on all countries to make universal secondary education for all girls and young women a reality everywhere.
For UNESCO, one key way we will contribute to this initiative is through the “Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future” programme, which has already strengthened access to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) for over 15 million young people in 33 sub-Saharan African countries. Through CSE and access to youth-friendly health services, the programme aims to reduce new HIV infections, early and unintended pregnancies, gender-based violence and child marriage.
It is only through solidarity, and shared responsibility, that we can truly fight the spread of public health threats such as HIV and COVID-19. That is why “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility”, is the theme of 2020 World AIDS Day, celebrated on 1 December.
The lessons learned from the AIDS response have taught us many things, chief among them that viruses do not discriminate, and neither should we. This World AIDS Day, show your support for people living with HIV and remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS.