“Getting to Zero – Together we are greater than AIDS”

Dec 1, 2013

I am honored to be here today on behalf of the UN family in Bhutan to commemorate World AIDS Day. Today’s event has been jointly organized LHAKSAM and the Ministry of Health with the support of the UNFPA. Warmest greetings to all of you! 

United Nations System in Bhutan joins the global community in general and Bhutan in particular in commemorating this important international world AIDS with the theme “Getting to Zero – Together we are greater than AIDS - Gearing towards elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV”.

Your Majesty, Excellency, Dashos, Ladies and Gentlemen

Today, as we mark World AIDS Day, we can point to significant progress in the global response to the epidemic on the road to reaching the goals of zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. Every minute, around 5 people are infected with HIV and another 3 people die of AIDS says UNAIDS report on the global AIDs epidemic 2013.

Today 36 million people are living with HIV of which 10 million adolescent and 4 million among children under 15 years of age. Worldwide, the number of new HIV infections continues to fall, more people have access to anti-retroviral treatment and, as a result, fewer people are dying of AIDS. However, the report indicates that response and achievements are not uniform and many countries are not on track. A high of 97 per cent new infections are in low and middle-income countries.

Of the 6,300 people newly infected each day, almost 40 per cent are young people aged 15-24, the majority of them young women. HIV is also the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age and contributes to at least 20 per cent of maternal deaths.

UNAIDS estimates that intimate-partner violence increases women’s risk of acquiring HIV by 50 per cent. Women from key populations, such as female drug users, female sex workers and transgender women, are particularly likely to experience gender-based violence. Women and girls in conflict and disaster situations face increased vulnerability to sexual violence, which puts them at greater risk of HIV infection.

In this fight against HIV/AIDS epidemic in Bhutan, I sincerely wish to acknowledge your Majesty’s selfless advocacy on HIV/AIDS reaching the remotest corners of the country. Further, I also wish to congratulate the Royal Government for its strong political commitment to reverse the AIDS epidemic in Bhutan and pledging towards elimination of Mother to child transmission of HIV by 2015.

The progress has been remarkable with policy interventions to mandate all pregnant women to undergo HIV testing and counseling during their ANC visits and free ART to those positive pregnant women.  Expansion of testing and counseling service at hospital and basic health unit has definitely contribution to increased case detection and prevention. This has greatly contributed to the increased detection of HIV case in Bhutan.

In order to achieve the intended goal of the Royal Government, further strengthening of sexual and reproductive health and HIV services to ensure universal access to the information and services is out-most important. In addition, women and girls must be empowered to negotiate safer sex – just having access to condoms is not enough. Men and boys must be proactively engaged as partners to redress gender inequality.

There is still much to do. If we want a future free of AIDS we will need continued investment, commitment and innovation to reach the vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.

The UN works in partnership with the government, civil society organizations, development partners and other actors to prevent HIV/AIDS.  On this World AIDS Day, let us resolve to consign AIDS to the pages of history.