Ahead of major international conference, UNICEF stresses need for innovation to eliminate new HIV infections
On 22 July, experts will gather in Washington, D.C., for the International AIDS Society’s biennial conference on rolling back the HIV and AIDS epidemic. UNICEF will host a leadership forum stressing the need for innovation in eliminating new HIV infections in children. This story is part of a series illustrating UNICEF's efforts on behalf of children and women affected by HIV.
NEW YORK, USA, 19 July 2012 – As experts gather in Washington, D.C., on 22 July for a major international conference on rolling back the HIV and AIDS epidemic, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake will host a leadership forum on the need for innovation to eliminate new HIV infections in children.
Mr. Lake’s forum comes at the start of the International AIDS Society’s biennial conference, which runs through 27 July. That event is expected to bring together more than 20,000 delegates from around the world, including technical experts, civil society, youth and people from key populations. They will meet to exchange information on rolling back the global epidemic and to discuss next steps. The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Turning the Tide Together’.
It comes as time for achieving international commitments on reversing the epidemic is running short. The world community has agreed to accomplish the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, including Goals 4, 5 and 6, which relate directly to HIV and AIDS. And countries have also committed to eliminating new HIV infections among children – and halving new adolescent infections – by the same date, under the UNAIDS Global Plan towards the Elimination of New HIV Infections among Children by 2015 and Keeping their Mothers Alive.
Delegates to showcase UNICEF’s work
HIV and AIDS Section Chief Craig McClure, who formerly served as Executive Director of the International AIDS Society, is leading the UNICEF delegation to the IAS conference. Staff will make presentations, participate in workshops with other experts and lend a hand at an information booth showcasing the organization’s research and advocacy work.
“What’s key in our HIV programme really is that we focus on the life cycle of a child,” Mr. McClure said in a recent interview. “So while we are on the verge of eliminating mother-to-child transmission in the next few years, if we remain focused, we also need to remember that… that the second decade of a child’s life, the adolescent phase, is critically important. We believe that children have the right to be born HIV-free and to remain HIV-free through to adulthood.”
At the upcoming meeting, UNICEF staff will present plenaries stressing the importance of including children in the HIV response and emphasising the need for coordinated global action to reverse the epidemic.
On Wednesday, 25 July, Senior HIV and AIDS Advisor Chewe Luo will deliver a plenary entitled ‘Turning the Tide on HIV/AIDS in Children and Youth’. She will provide an overview of steps needed to ‘turn the tide’: eliminating new HIV infections in children, early HIV diagnosis and treatment, care for adolescents and vulnerable children, and sustaining political commitment.
Focus on adolescents
Later that day, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta will speak on addressing the needs of adolescents, particularly girls.
“Our focus [in adolescent programming] is on young girls in sub-Saharan African who bear the brunt of HIV infection,” Mr. McClure said. “And throughout the world in whichever country, in whichever continent, the so-called key affected populations: Young males having sex with other males, young girls and boys engaged in injecting drug use, and young people involved in sex work. These are, of course, communities that are marginalized. From an equity perspective, we need to ensure that their needs are as met as anyone else’s.”
Regional and HQ staff will also make oral abstract presentations and offer symposia on their areas of expertise and regional issues. Mr. Lake’s Leadership Forum will take place at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies as the conference gets underway. It is part of his Leadership Agenda on the Elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission (eMTCT), and focuses on the need for innovation to achieve eMTCT targets in 22 priority countries, most in sub-Saharan Africa.