Remarks from Sandra Thurman at Heads of State Session Barcelona

Keeping AIDS at the Top of the Agenda: A Strategic Dialogue Among World Leaders

[Heads of State and former Heads of State]

Thursday, 11 July from 18:00-20:00
Fira de Barcelona, Hall 5 – Room 7

While we are here this evening to talk about political leadership at the highest levels of government, we think it’s important to acknowledge at the outset that leadership comes at all levels and from all sectors. In many ways – great leaders are not defined by the positions they hold – but by the spirit and skill they bring to those opportunities.

In a democracy it is said that where the people lead, the leaders will follow. In the early days of AIDS in my country, and in others a well, it was community leaders on the frontlines and people infected and affected by HIV that sounded the alarm and developed many of the effective and compassionate prevention and treatment programs that now form our response.

Many dedicated warriors and leaders fill not just this stage but this room and this conference – and before we go any further with a discussion about leadership – I want to salute you all for your tireless commitment and for your efforts in our shared fight against AIDS.

But this is a historic evening. Never before have world leaders – presidents and prime ministers – come to the AIDS conference to add their voices to the dialogue and to join with us in strategizing about how best to gin up our collective response so that it begins to match the magnitude of this challenge.

We are at a critical juncture in the global fight against AIDS. This is our 14th international AIDS conference. In the past few years, we have come together and declared our commitment to action against AIDS from New York to New Dehli and from Abuja to Barbados.

The good news is – we know what works. Together we have made it happen and have seen the results. We now have blue prints for action with identified goals and benchmarks for charting our progress. And a report from this conference reveals that we could save nearly 30 million lives by simply applying what we already know.

Clearly – we have knowledge, we have hope, and we have plenty of opportunity. What we need now are the collective will and the resources to put our vision into action. As Gandhi said: “we must become the change we want to see.” But it will not happen without the active commitment and engagement of political leaders – starting at the top. With their power and their influence we can wage a real war on AIDS.

It is for that reason that we are so pleased to have this group of real champions with us this evening. As world leaders, their capacity to help turn the tide is boundless. They have each demonstrated what a difference leadership can make, and tonight, and as we go forward I am sure that they will continue to do just that. It has been said that when the spirit awakens, it transforms worlds – but that it does not awaken without a challenge. Leadership against AIDS is that challenge – because LEADERSHIP SAVES LIVES.

I look forward to tonight´s dialogue – and to a major mobilization that emerges here and continues to build around the world as we move toward to Bangkok.

It is now my pleasure to introduce our moderator for this evening – a tireless warrior in the fight against AIDS in Thailand and around the world, a UNAIDS ambassador, a senator, and chairman of the Population and Community Development Association of Thailand – Meechai Viravaidya.