The Irish Aid Father Michael Kelly Event for World AIDS Day 2012DFAT - 28/11/12
I am delighted to be here for this special event to honour the remarkable contribution made by Fr. Michael Kelly on addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Professor Sarah Moore, Vice President of the University of Limerick for hosting it with us. I want to also thank the Irish Forum for Global Health for helping to organise the event.
The University of Limerick, with its focus on education and development of young people, and its particular excellence in the fields of music, sport and international relations, is indeed a fitting place for this year’s event to highlight the issues around HIV/AIDS.
The Global AIDS Epidemic
It is twenty-four years since we, as a global community, started to mark World AIDS Day which falls on the 1st of December. It is over thirty years since AIDS was first described. The impact of the pandemic has been devastating.
Since then, over 25 million people have died from the disease. In sub-Saharan Africa, over 14 million children have been orphaned as a result of AIDS.
But great progress has also been made during this time. People have come together to fight the epidemic. And no one more so, than the man in whose name our event this evening is being held, Fr. Michael Kelly.
Father Michael Kelly
For many of us, Fr. Michael Kelly needs no introduction, and in many parts of Africa he is a household name. He is a dear friend of Irish Aid and we are delighted to welcome him home at this time of year.
Two weeks ago he received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad in the field of peace, reconciliation and development, for which I would like to extend my heartfelt personal congratulations.
Fr. Michael is a world renowned expert on addressing HIV and AIDS through the education sector, and we look forward, as always, to listening to what he has to say.
Irish Aid Commitment on HIV/AIDS
I want to say a few words about how and why the Irish Aid programme prioritises support to tackle HIV and AIDS.
For many Least Developed Countries, HIV and AIDS continues to be the biggest single obstacle to reducing poverty and to attaining the Millennium Development Goals.
HIV is driven by poverty. The greatest burden of the epidemic rests with some of the poorest countries in the world in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Irish Aid supports civil society, partner governments and international organisations such as the United Nations to prevent and respond to HIV.
And we have seen some progress.
Our efforts to prevent HIV are working. This is borne out by the statistics: the number of new HIV infections each year is decreasing.
Quality of care and access to treatment available has improved enormously. There are now 8 million people receiving treatment for HIV in low and middle income countries. With increased access to treatment, people with HIV can live full and active lives.
Progress like this gives some hope that this pandemic can be surmounted but we should not be complacent. A lot of additional effort is needed if we are to win the battle.
There are more people living with HIV/AIDS in the world today than ever before. There are more people living with HIV in Ireland than ever before. Ann Mason, who is the manager of the excellent Red Ribbon Project in Limerick, knows this better than any of us. We must do all in our power to support people affected by HIV and work hard to prevent it.
This is why Ireland will continue to advocate for a global response on HIV and we will continue to prioritise HIV in our development programmes.
Irish Aid programmes to prevent HIV have a special focus on youth. Establishing healthy behaviour early on in life is much easier than trying to change behaviour later in life, when bad habits have become engrained. That is why the theme of this event is grounded on music, education and sports as vehicles for positive and healthy living – where the community protects the young and vulnerable and supports them through the formative years, and onwards.
Community leadership is therefore at the heart of the AIDS response, both in Ireland and in Africa. Irish Aid was a co-founder and continues to be one of the main sponsors of the Red Ribbon Award for outstanding community leadership in the fight against AIDS in the world. I am delighted to note that tomorrow, Ireland’s Ambassador in Uganda, Anne Webster, is presenting the award to one of this year’s winners at a World AIDS Day event in Kampala.
Community leadership through sport is very strong in Ireland. This leadership, combined with a world famous sports ethos, is particularly strong in Munster Rugby, and I want to personally thank Marcus Horan for coming to speak to us this evening.
In that same spirit of community leadership, I am delighted that the Red Ribbon Project in Limerick have joined us this evening and I am honoured to now invite Ms Ann Mason to share her perspective with us.