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Minister Cannon T.D. speech to mark World Aids Day 2018

Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to welcome you all to our 2018 World AIDS Day event here in the Smock Alley Theatre.
I would like to extend a special thanks to the Irish Forum for Global Health who have organised this event with Irish Aid over many years.
This year marks the 13th Professor Michael Kelly Lecture on HIV and AIDS. Established in 2006 by my Department to honour and recognise the inspirational work of Fr Michael Kelly, the lecture series continues to stimulate discussion, motivate and encourage action to address one of the most persistent public health and social challenges of our time.
While Fr Michael is not physically present with us here tonight he continues to inspire all of us with his insights and deep understanding of how to overcome the AIDS pandemic both in his adopted country Zambia and throughout the developing and developed world. We are once again honoured to have members of Fr Michael’s family join us this evening.
We will hear shortly from Fr Michael in his video address. As always, he will draw our attention to the most critical reality: that while there has been real progress, the battle against AIDS is not over. Fr Michael will remind us that while there are 'good reasons for optimism, there may be even greater reasons for pessimism”.
We have seen the incidence of HIV drop over recent years. We have seen millions of people accessing affordable and effective HIV treatment, and AIDS related deaths have been reduced by more than half since 2004 when they were at their peak.
However we have still not gotten to the bottom of this public health challenge. 5,000 people – men, women and children – become newly infected every day. And while 22 million people are on treatment, there are 15 million people who are not. Most of these people live in low income countries particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
These are the people who do not get access to the necessary information, services and support they need to protect themselves and their families. Many tend to be the most vulnerable and marginalised in society and most at risk of infection. We cannot lull ourselves into a false sense of security with the victories gained so far in fighting the AIDS epidemic. There is still work to be done.

As you know my department has been working hard this year to prepare our new international development policy. I would like to thank many of you here today for your valuable contributions to the public consultation process.
Our primary objective will be to work to address the needs of those furthest behind. We will have a central focus on addressing extreme poverty, vulnerability and marginalised groups. We will build upon our track record in reaching the poorest and most vulnerable.

We recognise that there is much to do and reaching those who to date have been left out of progress will be difficult. We recognise that we need to be bold in our new policy and demonstrate the resolve to take on the increased risks involved in reaching the furthest behind while acknowledging and planning for the costs of this effort.
In the context of vulnerability to HIV and AIDS this will challenge us to ensure that those individuals and groups who are discriminated against, who are marginalised by virtue of their social and economic status, their sexuality or their gender, are not left behind.
And this brings us to the theme of this evening’s lecture – Leaving No One Behind.
We are very fortunate to have three inspirational and provocative guest speakers this evening – Dr Oanh Khuat, Rory O’Neill/ Panti Bliss and Robbie Lawlor - each of them in their own right playing important roles in ensuring no-one is left behind in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Dr Oanh will share her experiences of creating enabling environments for the most marginalized and vulnerable populations in her native Vietnam – including sex workers, drug users, people living with HIV, poor migrants, ethnic minorities as well as LGBTIQA people.
Our own Rory O’Neill has made an equally long journey to be with us tonight. As a young man his curious spirit took him to London and Japan during which his creative wish for self-expression became the outrageous character of Panti Bliss on stage – a persona that has allowed him to channel his ‘otherness’. Panti’s articulate, impassioned speech in the Abbey Theatre, led to her becoming something of an accidental icon for change during Ireland’s referendum on marriage equality, the full story of which is told in the wonderful documentary ‘The Queen of Ireland’. Panti continues to be an outspoken and influential voice for human rights and an advocate for those at the margins of society.
And thirdly Robbie Lawler – a strong and proud young advocate. From Dublin, Robbie became active within the HIV community since his diagnosis in 2012. He provides one-on-one peer support, speaks out about the importance of protecting oneself, knowing your status and living positively.
What is clear to me is that great challenges remain if we are to make HIV and AIDS history. But these challenges are ours to grasp. We need to work together to be the generation that ends HIV and AIDS.
We need to be bold, to be brave and to be out there in our efforts to tackle the formidable obstacles that stand in the way of providing HIV services to those who need them most.
These are all qualities abundantly demonstrated by Fr Michael and our guests. I am looking forward to hearing from Fr Michael and our guests and to learn from their personal experiences and work.

Thank you

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