The fight against HIV/AIDS concerns every one of us. In the 20 years since the world first heard of AIDS, the epidemic has taken on ever more terrifying proportions. For too long, global progress in facing up to the pandemic was unconscionably slow. But the past few years have seen a turning point in the fight against HIV/AIDS. For much of the international community, the magnitude of the crisis is finally beginning to sink in. At no time in the two decades of dealing with this catastrophe has there been such a sense of common resolve and collective possibility – among Governments, civil society and the private sector, among foundations, opinion-makers and people living with HIV/AIDS.
Significant new funding to fight the epidemic has been pledged, both by individual Governments and through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The vast majority of countries have in place broad national strategies to combat HIV/AIDS. A growing number of corporations are adopting policies on HIV/AIDS in the workplace. Increasingly, community and faith-based groups – which have often taken the lead in the fight against AIDS – are working as full partners with Governments and others in mounting a coordinated response.
But at the same time, the epidemic continues its lethal march around the world, with few signs of slowing down. In the course of the past year, every minute of every day, some 10 people were infected. In the hardest-hit regions, life expectancy is plummeting. HIV/AIDS is spreading at an alarming rate among women, who now account for half of those infected worldwide. And the epidemic is expanding most rapidly in regions which had previously been largely spared – especially in Eastern Europe and across all of Asia, from the Urals to the Pacific Ocean. In that region, Ukraine has one of the highest incidences of infection.
Clearly, we must work even harder to match our commitment with the necessary resources and action. We cannot claim that competing challenges are more important, or more urgent. We must keep AIDS at the top of our political and practical agenda.
That is why we must continue to speak up openly about AIDS. No progress will be achieved by being timid, refusing to face unpleasant facts, or prejudging our fellow human beings – still less by stigmatizing people living with HIV/AIDS. Let no one imagine that we can protect ourselves by building barriers between “us” and “them”. In the ruthless world of AIDS, there is no us and them. And in that world, silence is death.
I urge the people and Government of Ukraine, as well as all parts of Ukraine’s civil society and private sector, to join me in speaking up loud and clear about HIV/AIDS. Join me in tearing down the walls of silence, stigma and discrimination that surround the epidemic. Join me, because the fight against HIV/AIDS begins with you.