Thank you all for gathering with us this evening to celebrate the premiere of Drawing IT Out: First International HIV/AIDS Cartoon Exhibition at the United Nations. It is an honor to be here on World AIDS Day.
As we recognize 25 years of a world with AIDS, International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is grateful to the Government of Brazil, UNAIDS and our other partners for working with us to bring the world's first International HIV/AIDS cartoon exhibition to New York. We are also grateful to them for their dedication and response to the global AIDS epidemic.
In recent years attention has focused on the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa where the needs are so vast. What is less well known is the extent to which AIDS is threatening Latin America and the Caribbean, something I have seen first hand as a physician in Trinidad and Tobago.
Sadly, the Caribbean has the second highest rate of HIV infection in the world. HIV is now the leading cause of death among people aged 15-49 in this region.
Following the International AIDS Conference in Toronto earlier this year, signification attention was finally drawn to the fact that HIV/AIDS is increasingly affecting women and young people.
Recent data show that women account for 48 per cent of all people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. More women are HIV positive than ever before.
In Trinidad and Tobago, 56 per cent of adults living with HIV are female. In the Bahamas that figure reaches 59 per cent.
In Jamaica national HIV infection levels appear to have stabilized and there are signs that HIV prevalence is receding in some places as more Jamaicans are protecting themselves against infection. National HIV prevalence was at 1.5% last year and an estimated 25,000 adults and children were living with HIV.
Over the past several years, we at IPPF have focused on how AIDS affects women, particularly how the social and cultural forces that shape women's lives leave them vulnerable. IPPF works to develop new initiatives to fight the disease and reduce infection rates through service provision and education among our network of clinics across the Latin American and Caribbean region.
The health care professionals, educators and young leaders that we work with across the region are performing life-saving work by introducing concepts of sexual rights, strengthening the capacity of our clinics to offer services to survivors of gender-based violence within the existing sexual and reproductive health services, and negotiating condom use and other prevention strategies.
While more and more women become infected, the possibility for HIV positive women to live long, productive, fulfilling lives and to give birth to healthy babies has increased with the expansion of access to anti-retroviral treatment (ARV) and care. This goes hand in hand with a growing demand for sexual and reproductive health services for women living with HIV.
The major challenge continues to be translating the knowledge gained into practice so that we can be even more effective in controlling the increasing feminization of HIV infection, while guaranteeing access to care, treatment and support.
As you may know, the exhibition is at two other venues in New York City – Gay Men's Health Crisis and Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture. We were delighted to work with both of these important organizations. I would also like to thank our partners in this project – The Permanent Mission of Brazil to the UN, the Brazil Ministry of Health and UNAIDS – the kind of collaboration that brought Drawing IT Out to the UN today – is the same kind of collaboration that we need to see worldwide: to bring services to the people who most need them; to prevent the spread of AIDS among all of our communities–especially to those who are most vulnerable; and to end the stigma and discrimination so often associated with the disease.
I would like to express gratitude on behalf of IPPF to the Levi Strauss Foundation, whose incredible support made this a reality.
I thank you all for joining us this evening and I thank you for joining us in our efforts to empower women, children and men in the fight against AIDS.