Remarks by Ambassador H.E. Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona
Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
Commission on Population and Development
Panel Discussion Excellencies, Distinguished Panelists, Youth Representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen,
“Advancing HIV Prevention among Young People”
Sri Lanka appreciates the opportunity to Chair this side event. I thank the organizers - UN Women, UNAIDS, the United Nations Population Fund and the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS for organizing the evening’s discussion on an issue that is critical to the well- being of young people.
The current decline in HIV infections among young people in 21 of the 24 countries with national HIV prevalence of 1% or higher generates some optimism in an otherwise challenging scenario for HIV/AIDs among young people. Increased public awareness, involvement of young people in their communities, and advancing of preventive measures and practices has contributed to this development. The impossible is being achieved but a miracle will take time in realizing the UNAIDS vision- “Zero new HIV infections; Zero discrimination and Zero AIDs related deaths.”
Therefore, the challenge remains and will continue for many years. Allow me to share with you a thumb nail sketch of the demographics of young people and HIV/AIDS. Adolescents and young people aged 12-24 years comprise 1.6 billion - decidedly the largest generation ever in this age group. In 2010, a disproportionately large number of the infections in people aged 15 years and above – 42%, occurred among those aged 15-24 years. Among young people living with HIV, nearly 80% (4million) live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Globally, young women aged 15-24, have the HIV infection rates twice as high as young men, and account for 22% of all new HIV infections. About 31% of the new infections are in Sub-Saharan Africa. And yet, in low and middle - income countries, only 24% of young women and 36% of young men have comprehensive knowledge of HIV.
Sustained political commitment, increased efforts at the international, regional national and local levels and targeted responses will help further consolidate the progress made thus far and advance prevention among young people. In the 2011 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, Member States have renewed their commitment to focus efforts to halve sexual transmission and transmission among drug users, including among young people. They have also committed to engaging young people, especially those living with HIV in the global AIDS response.
Agencies of the United Nations have prioritized youth engagement to ensure young people’s active involvement in the policy and programme decision making. There is growing recognition that while young people are the most vulnerable, they also have the potential to alter the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic.
I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the response of Sri Lanka to the HIV/AIDS threat. Sri Lanka has a youth population of almost 26 per cent of its 20 million people. While Sri Lanka’s vulnerability to the epidemic remains high, we maintain a lower prevalence below 0.1% among the adult population. The reasons for this low HIV incidence in Sri Lanka are important. The country’s exceptionally high literacy rate (female adult literacy at 97% and male adult literacy rate at 98%, in 2010), high profile public awareness campaigns, free availability of prophylactics and its free universal health care system have contributed. Sri Lanka first introduced an Anti-Venereal Disease Campaign in 1952. A condom social marketing programme was introduced in the early 1970s that helped prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV. In order to respond to the emerging global epidemic, Sri Lanka established the National STD/AIDS Control Programme (NSACP) in 1985. Sri Lanka has been providing free ART, Anti-retroviral treatment since 2004. Voluntary counselling and testing is offered throughout Sri Lanka in 26 national clinics. National prevention efforts are also focused on high risk groups such as female sex workers and their clients, men who have sex with men (MSM), vulnerable youth in tourism heavy areas and among migrant workers.
Despite Sri Lanka’s low prevalence, there are 350 new infections each year and approximately 25% of the new infections are among young people below 29 years. Despite public awareness raising campaigns, social stigma is preventing people from accessing life- saving services. Recognizing these challenges, the Government has already formulated a five year (2011-2015) National Response to the HIV/AIDS challenge for Round 9 of the Global Fund (GF). Key activities in the National response include increasing the scale and quality of interventions for Most at Risk Populations (MARPs) through effective mapping and outreach, providing 1st and 2nd line antiretroviral therapy for adults and children, improving STD/HIV diagnostic facilities and the increase data base by conducting an Integrated Biological and behavioural Surveillance (BBS) to enhance targeted and strategic prevention. We also recognize that setting up an enabling environment is critical to achieving universal accessibility to prevention, care and treatment of HIV. We will seek more avenues and opportunities to build a more trustworthy relationship especially with young populations at risk in order to implement effective HIV programming. This will require greater partnerships through the youth networks and community groups.
Today’s discussion is most timely. This forum seeks to engage the stakeholders, young people, national governments, civil society and UN officials to focus on three important integral aspects to prevention: HIV prevention among young women and girls, structural issues impacting transmission among youth, and HIV prevention among youth at risk. The ideas, information and best practices that will be shared will help accelerate prevention and service delivery for young people. There will be greater understanding of the vital role that supportive social, legal and economic environments can play in HIV prevention. Equally important, the forum will encourage and support the active and meaningful engagement of young people, including those living with HIV, as key players in a new generation of leaders in the AIDS response. I look forward to a vibrant and honest discussion.
With this, let me hand the floor to the moderator, to facilitate the 3 panel discussions. I thank you.