Address by Regional Director on the occasion of World AIDS Day celebration by the Government of India

1 December 2016, Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi, India

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honor to have the opportunity to address you on World Aids Day, and I thank H.E. Shri J P Nadda for inviting me to do so.

Today is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the cause of HIV prevention and treatment; to raise public awareness about HIV; and to remember loved ones who lost out to AIDS.

These outcomes are especially important in the current context: Having achieved the Millennium Development Goal of reversing the global AIDS epidemic we find ourselves at a historic juncture. Of course, there remains plenty more to do, including ensuring universal access to HIV treatment – one of the MDG commitments we failed to achieve.

As a means to sustain and accelerate progress we have now embarked on a mission to end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030.

As per Sustainable Development Goal 3.3, which maps out a series of interim goals to achieve this target, by 2020 at least 90% of people living with HIV should be identified; at least 90% of those identified should be on effective treatment; and at least 90% of those on treatment should have successfully suppressed the multiplication of HIV in their bodies.

Achieving these goals will not only help people with HIV live longer and healthier, but will also interrupt transmission of the virus, thereby resulting in fewer new infections.

Though these goals are within our reach, in India – as across the South-East Asia Region – we nevertheless have our work cut out for us: When compared to other Regions, South-East Asia has the second highest number of people living with HIV. When compared to other countries, India remains home to the world’s third highest number of people living with HIV.

Still, progress has been steady, and I congratulate India’s health authorities on their remarkable gains. Since the turn of the millennium the annual number of new HIV infections has reduced by 66%, for example, while AIDS-related deaths have decreased by 54% since 2007. Further, of an estimated 2.1 million people living with HIV about 1.4 million are aware of their HIV status. Around one million of these are on ART.

It is exciting to note that India has recently revised its HIV testing guidelines and is optimizing HIV testing approaches to reach the unreached. India is also in the process of revising its ART guidelines as a step towards implementing the TREAT policy in a phased manner, beginning with key populations. WHO has been providing technical support to NACO, and is fully committed to ensuring high-quality, stigma-free, universal access to ART and other HIV-related activities.

It is also a pleasure to note that India has recently renewed its commitment to use all flexibilities in the TRIPS agreement to continue providing high-quality generic drugs, including ARVs, for developing countries across the world. India’s ingenuity will help millions of people receive the medical products they need, and will help achieve HIV/AIDS targets in the country, the Region, and the world.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

As you know, WHO has been updating information on prevention, testing, treatment and monitoring, as well as service delivery approaches. The Global Strategy on the Health Sector Response to HIV 2016–2021, endorsed by all Member States at the World Health Assembly in May 2016, provides the framework for effective and sustainable implementation of evidence-based interventions.

In coming months and years we must be innovative and strike where we can have the greatest impact. Indeed, our focus and prioritization of interventions is critical, especially in low and concentrated epidemic settings in populous countries such as India. This is all the more important as the possibility of resource scarcity looms.

Proactive action backed by political will and innovative and sustainable financing will go a long way in fast-tracking national HIV responses. It will be these responses that steer India and the Region towards an AIDS-free generation and an AIDS-free world.

The theme for this year’s World Aids Day is ‘Prevent, test and treat all’. Let us commit ourselves to making this happen.

Thank you very much.