Alia Al Dalli: Enhancing sustainable & healthy livelihoods for people living with HIV & vulnerable populations

13 Jul 2012

Opening remarks for Alia Al-Dali
Manager of the United Nations Development Programme Regional Center in Cairo

"Enhancing sustainable & healthy livelihoods for people living with HIV & vulnerable populations"

In my capacity of Regional Director of the UNDP Regional Centre in Cairo, it is a pleasure and an honor to welcome you to this training workshop on enhancing sustainable and healthy livelihoods for people living with HIV (PLWH) and vulnerable populations. I would like to welcome to Egypt those of you who travelled from Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Djibouti, Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen, and even all the way from India. I thank you for your interest and willingness to participate in this event when HIV is hardly considered an issue - let alone a priority - by most decision-makers and the public at large, given the dramatic events affecting many of the countries in our region.

The objective of this meeting is clear and straightforward: how to best work together – UN agencies, NGOs, PLWH and community members – to socially, psychologically and economically empower PLWH, and by extension their families and communities? How to work together to bring back this sense of purpose and pride that too many PLWH lost? How to re-ignite the flame and desire to be a productive and meaningful member of the community? How to transform words and promises into a concrete and positive change in the lives of PLWH and vulnerable populations?

Some of you have been supporting PLWH for many years, and as part of your activities, you have provided them with opportunities to attend leadership trainings, to have access to vocational trainings, and/or to apply for loans to establish income-generating activities. Some of you started last year; some of you started several years ago; some others haven’t worked on HIV but came to learn and understand why it is such a crucial issue and an opportunity for change beyond HIV – particularly now. We will be looking forward to hearing from all of you so that we can learn from each other and improve the effectiveness, the sustainability and most importantly the positive impact of these activities for individuals, their families and their communities – our communities. 

I won’t spend too much time on data and figures on the HIV epidemic here. I will only mention that while all other regions of the world managed to successfully reverse the HIV infection growth rates and to decrease the mortality rates, we stand as the exception as these rates are still on the rise in our region (to reach an estimated 84,000 new infections in 2010, which are the latest figures we have from UNAIDS). We have almost half a million people living with HIV in our region, and the second fastest HIV infection growth rate in the world. Also, mortality rates have doubled in 10 years (to reach en estimated 39,000 deaths in 2010 according to UNAIDS). We are now facing generalized epidemics in Djibouti, Somalia, and South Sudan; and concentrated epidemics among Most-at-Risk Populations in most other countries, including the countries represented in this room today. 

Of course, while we should not refrain from discussing figures and statistics, it is important that we remember that our work is about people – something we all know but need to be gently reminded of from time to time. Our work is, for example, about all the Asmaa’s from the Maghreb, the Mashreq, the Horn of Africa, and the Gulf. I refer, of course, to the movie about an Egyptian woman, Asmaa, living with HIV, which, as its director, Amr Salama, puts it “is a story about love, courage, overcoming fear and fighting for personal rights”. Indeed, our work on HIV is about making sure that PLWH enjoy their full human rights, while preventing new HIV infections. The uprisings that swept many countries in the region reminded people that they are entitled to these rights. We are all entitled to the same rights, regardless of our HIV status. Some of you may be concerned about the prospects for a strong HIV response in this region, especially in the context of reduced funding, more conservative governments and parliaments, etc. But there are also promising signs that indicate that for the first time in many years, change is possible. In several Arab countries, the emergence of a new Civil Society is contributing to create a new social contract – one that is based on human rights, social justice, transparency, accountability, etc. Values and dreams are driving these actions. Let us seize this opportunity and let us work together to make these dreams of a better future a reality.

I thank you again for being here today, and I wish you a productive workshop.