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Voices United Against AIDS

Last week the UN General Assembly held a High Level Meeting on AIDS. I attended a program looking at progress over the past 10 years since the original United Nations Special Session on HIV/AIDS.

Jessica Cannizzaro is interning with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s Editorial and Creative Services Department.

Last week the UN General Assembly held a High Level Meeting on AIDS. I attended a program looking at progress over the past 10 years since the original United Nations Special Session on HIV/AIDS.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake spoke to the focus of the event: “The Missing Face of Children and AIDS.”

He reminded the audience that 1,000 babies  become infected with HIV every day; hundreds of thousands of women are not getting the treatment they need to protect their babies and preserve their own health; 16 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS; and many more don’t receive services they need to survive.”

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UNICEF/2011/Markisz
President of Rwanda Paul Kagame speaks at ‘The Missing Face of Children and AIDS: Progress on Ten Years of Commitments’ meeting.

In other words, the “missing faces” are the faces of human beings in need.

President of Rwanda Paul Kagame called for urgent action. “Distinguished audience, these are not, to me, statistics. We are talking about real people – above all, children.”

Children, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé told us, are a reality check. The time to act and implement life-changing policy is now. “Let us all take more responsibility, not only for ourselves and our families, but for out communities and the world,” Sidibé stated.

I also had the opportunity to speak with Jimmy Kolker, Chief of HIV/AIDS at UNICEF. He reminded me that although it is clear the world has made the issue of AIDS a priority, it is important to put this issue in a broader context. “It is getting a comprehensive look at the families and children who are directly affected,” he said of the evening’s panel. 

I understood what he meant when I met Nabbumba “Princess” Nuru, a young person living with HIV from Uganda. Nabbumba is a beautiful, brave, inspiring young woman who has been working as a children’s counselor to help other young people struggling with the disease. She is the Executive Director of Youth Caravan, a youth-led and youth-supporting community-based organization, and a member organization of Uganda Network of Young People Living With HIV and AIDS.

I was very humbled to speak with Nabbumba after the event. When I asked about her own story of sharing her voice, she said to me, “Personally, while I was growing up, I went through a lot of pain and struggle. The day I learned the truth was a turning point for me. I wanted to use my story to impact the lives of others.”

Though the faces of children have been missing from HIV/AIDS discussions for a long time, last night we witnessed an important reappearance. I will never forget the face of Nabbumba “Princess” Nuru: a face that is courageous, strong, and full of beauty and life. It is the face of AIDS. It is a face that is not missing, but present, active, and engaged in a global conversation. And it is these faces that we must never lose sight of – each face of AIDS has a voice, and each voice has a story. And every story, whether it is that of an infant or a pregnant mother, a young leader or a child in need, every story must be shared with the world. When every story is shared and every child’s face reappears full of promise and life, then we will find the strength to achieve an AIDS-free generation together.

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