Address by the Regional Director at the award ceremony to mark Maldives’ Elimination of Mother-to-child Transmission of HIV/AIDS and Syphilis

15 July 2019, Maldives

Your Excellency, Faisal Naseem, Vice President of the Republic of Maldives; His Excellency Abdulla Ameen, Hon’ Minister of Health; distinguished cabinet ministers; members of the National Validation Committee; members of the diplomatic corps; WHO colleagues; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege to be in Maldives once again, and to celebrate yet another of your public health achievements.

That achievement is the dual elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS and syphilis.

I sincerely congratulate you.

Maldives is now among the first countries in the world to create a generation free of mother-to-child transmission of both diseases.

Your remarkable feat reflects the wisdom of the country’s policymakers, the excellence of its programme managers, and the hard work and determination of its health workers.

It also reflects Maldives’ broader trajectory.

In recent years you have been certified malaria-free. You have eliminated lymphatic filariasis and measles, and controlled rubella.

You can be proud of these achievements. Each one is the outcome of years of struggle backed by years of commitment.

As you know, Maldives initiated measures against HIV/AIDS four years before the first case was even diagnosed in 1991.

WHO is proud to have supported you do this, alongside partners such as UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA.

Importantly, the programme’s emphasis was always on inclusivity and integration.

You worked over many years to create greater awareness of HIV/AIDS and syphilis generally, and among at-risk groups specifically.

You worked over many years to ensure services for testing, treatment and counselling were readily accessible to all, regardless of demographics.

And you worked over many years to integrate key preventive interventions across services, whether for safe blood transfusion or injection safety.

The outcome of this approach and commitment was the low transmission of both diseases, which helped facilitate today’s celebration.

It is no coincidence that the values your long-term programming reflects – inclusivity and integration – are the values at the fore of public health more generally today.

Indeed, they are values that are central to our quest to achieve universal health coverage.

I commend you on your visionary thinking. I also commend WHO Country Office colleagues for the technical and operational support they have provided. Their efforts have borne fruit.

In acknowledging the significance of today’s celebration, however, I would also like to emphasize the importance of maintaining it, and of preventing new infections among all age groups across the islands.

To this end, the key principles of UHC are crucial. Not only will they help you maintain your achievement; they will also help sustain and accelerate progress against mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS and syphilis across the Region more generally.

In pursuing these outcomes, three areas of action should be of focus.

First is the need to maintain or establish high coverage and uptake of ante-natal services. By ensuring that all pregnant women can and do access ante-natal care, all pregnant women are more likely to be screened for the diseases and provided appropriate treatment where necessary. Health workers must be encouraged to make that happen.

Second is the value of further integrating health services. As Maldives has demonstrated, integrated services fill service gaps and ensure that all patients at all levels of care are provided the services they need. Integrated services also increase equity and help ensure the right to health is respected, protected and fulfilled.

And third is the need to extend people-centered service coverage to all vulnerable groups, including migrants. When it comes to disease transmission, our shared biology has no correlation to visa category or otherwise. As such, we must work ever harder to accelerate progress towards UHC, and to secure access to health services for migrants and all vulnerable groups.

Your Excellency, distinguished guests,

As you appreciate, honing-in on each area of action will have many benefits beyond maintaining or accelerating progress towards EMTCT of HIV/AIDS and syphilis.

These range from helping prevent maternal and newborn mortality to controlling rubella or hepatitis.

The importance of pursuing each one cannot be emphasized enough.

Given your achievements, I am certain you will do precisely that, and will continue to go from strength to strength, including in your efforts to eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat and your quest to make rapid and lasting gains against leprosy.

Indeed, as I stated at the outset, Maldives has achieved a lot. WHO looks forward to supporting you achieve more.

On that note, I once again express my heartfelt congratulations to Your Excellency, the Vice President Faisal Naseem, and to the Minister of Health, the Hon’ble Abdulla Ameen. You can be truly proud.

I also commend the many frontline workers who toiled relentlessly – often in remote and hard-to-reach areas – to achieve this outcome, and to the people of Maldives for their commitment to making further progress in public health.

I wish you joyful celebrations and encourage you to continue your forward trajectory ever faster, and ever stronger, for the health of all people everywhere across this remarkable country.

Thank you.