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Scaling Breakthrough Innovations to Transform the Adolescence AIDS Response by Minister Cannon T.D.

I am delighted to be here with you all today for this key event during a very important week here in Amsterdam. It is critical that we take stock of where we are in the global fight against HIV and AIDS. The SDG framework, negotiated in 2015 by Ireland and Kenya, highlights the importance of partnership and I am delighted that Ireland was able to co-host this event. UNICEF has been a longstanding and important partner of Ireland. We are also delighted to partner with the International Aids Society who is a leading voice on the important issues we will discuss here this evening.

Ireland has long been involved in global efforts to combat HIV and AIDS. Working in close partnership with UNAIDS, we have always given particular priority to HIV prevention. Key policy areas for Ireland included strengthening the gender-focused HIV response and HIV prevention among adolescent girls and young women.

As a founding partner of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB & Malaria, we are also proud to have supported better access to treatment, the foundation of major progress. However, like everyone in this room, we are all aware that there is still much to do. Indeed in my own country Ireland, HIV remains a major concern with 10 new diagnoses every week.

What is very clear now, is that our efforts to fight against HIV and AIDS have to adapt to new challenges and this evening’s event focuses our attention on a demographic where major challenges remain – that is among the youth.

The figures speak for themselves and the following statistics remind us of the challenge:
In 2017 alone, 590,000 young people between the ages of 15 to 24 were newly infected with HIV, of whom 250,000 were adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19.

In 2017, about 1.8 million adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 were living with HIV worldwide. Adolescents account for about 5 per cent of all people living with HIV but 16 per cent of all new adult HIV infections.

Reaching the key populations and youth most vulnerable to HIV and AIDS requires us to think differently. We need to tailor our approach and response to those we are trying to reach by listening carefully to those we aim to support. I am delighted to see that our programme tonight gives us the opportunity to listen to two youth advocates. They will no doubt give us food for thought and tell us where we need to do better.

The gender disparity is particularly alarming and it increases with age - for every 5 adolescent boys living with HIV, there are 7 girls (aged 10–19 years) and for every 5 young men living with HIV, there are 10 young women.

Ireland has increased support to Youth Friendly Services. Working in partnership with other organisations such as UNAIDS, UNICEF and UNFPA in Uganda, through our support, we are ensuring that Young People can access a range of services that are provided in a welcoming, confidential, conveniently located and affordable way.

We are also supporting UNESCO in East and Southern Africa to deliver comprehensive sexuality education to youth in secondary level. This regional programme supports young people to access sexual and reproductive health information and services to reduce HIV infection, avoid unintended pregnancy and reduce gender-based violence. It involves working with communities, parents, teachers and of course the youth themselves and we are seeing some very interesting results.

I would also like to highlight the importance of strengthening health systems. We cannot deliver effective quality services to combat HIV or any disease if we do not invest in the people and structures that deliver these services. To do this, we must work with national authorities and strategies to ensure we are delivering sustainable results.

As we work in close partnership with UNICEF, I would also like to highlight that investing in education for girls and young women is one of the clearest opportunities for progress. Keeping girls in school is critical to support the fight to end HIV and AIDS by 2030 - our SDG target.

Based on current trends, UNICEF projects that in the next two years there will be 320,000 new HIV infections among adolescent girls (15 – 19) in Sub-Saharan Africa. That is where 3 in 4 new HIV infections in adolescents occur. There is an enormous opportunity and payoff in investing in education.

Women with post-primary education are five times more likely than illiterate women to be educated on the topic of HIV and AIDS. By merely keeping adolescent girls in school an additional year, the chances of HIV infection reduces by 12%. The evidence is clear – investing in education leads to better health, and investing in health leads to better education outcomes.

Being open to new ways and approaches is critical. Innovation offers us potential to evolve our approach, reach people faster and do things better. In an era where mobile technology can be found in the most remote locations, there is enormous potential that we can harness in order to do things better.

Technology can allow us to connect to the hard to reach and leave no one behind. Identifying opportunities to link adolescent HIV strategies into existing adolescent health and development programmes is also something we need to prioritise. I really look forward to hearing about where innovative approaches are bearing fruit to see where we can scale up success stories.

Looking ahead, in Ireland we are currently developing our new policy on international development and the Irish Government remains committed to the global fight against HIV and AIDS. Ireland is very much aware that harnessing innovation and technology must be part of our response. This response must also be more tailored to adapt to the key populations we must now focus on, including adolescents. Today’s discussions will no doubt help us in our thinking around the best way forward.

To conclude, events such as this one are extremely importing in bringing partners together to see how we can do things better. SDG 17 recalls the need for partnership and greater collaboration among multiple stakeholders. In particular, listening to the voices of adolescents is critical. Listening will undoubtedly lead us closer to our global target of ending the HIV epidemic by 2030 – a SDG ambition we all share together and which we can only reach together.

On that note, I am delighted to hand you over to Henriette Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF for the keynote address.

Thank you.

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