Each year on this day, the first of December, World AIDS Day is observed. It is an opportunity to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and its global impact.
This year we will be launching the 20th International AIDS Conference, held next July, 2014 in Melbourne. This is the premier gathering of people working in the HIV AIDS field, people living with HIV AIDS, policy makers and activists and I'm delighted that the beautiful city of Melbourne will be host.
It is an opportunity to learn from each other, to share experiences and Australia through its response and its targeting of HIV/AIDS over years has now reached a position where national prevalence in this country is lower than many comparable nations.
However that is not a cause to be complacent. Indeed we must not and should not be complacent, for it is estimated that around five million people in our immediate neighbourhood, in our region, are living with HIV/AIDS and the prevalence among young girls and young women is deeply disturbing.
Australia has over the past decade invested about a billion dollars in HIV related programs in our region, the Indian Ocean Asia Pacific, but we are also a nation with global interests, so while we fund programs in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and other countries in the Indo-Pacific, we also contribute to UNAIDS. Next year Australia will chair the UNAIDS program coordination board and host the 20th International AIDS Conference.
The importance of World AIDS Day is underscored by the presence of so many distinguished guests here at Government House today – His Excellency the Governor of Victoria and Mrs Chernov, the Minister for Health for the Victorian Government David Davis, the Leader of the Federal Opposition Bill Shorten, the Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidebé and a global advocate like no other, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Daw Suu is renowned and greatly admired for her unrelenting advocacy for freedom and democracy for the Burmese people. She is an inspiration to people the world over. I was fortunate to meet her in Rangoon in 1995 at a time when she had just been released from house arrest. She had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991 but was not free to collect her prize until 2012.
Her work for the Burmese people in promoting freedom and democracy, her peaceful campaigning has made her a global icon and with all that she has on her plate for the Burmese people, as leader of the National League for Democracy, in facing some challenging times in the years ahead, she has nevertheless agreed to be UNAIDS Ambassador for Zero Discrimination.
Her work in South East Asia fighting against discrimination for people living with HIV/AIDS, her work in promoting early screening and testing and other programs has been a model for us all. It has been an exemplary commitment.
I have been delighted to act as her host, as Daw Suu is a guest of the Australian Government, on her first visit to Australia. We hope there will be many more.
Ladies and gentlemen it gives me great pleasure to introduce the UNAIDS Global Ambassador for Zero Discrimination, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
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