UNAIDS Address to the Elderly Carers and Empathy Clubs for the Elderly, 27 November 2007

Tuesday 27 November, 2007
Ha Noi, Viet Nam 

Good afternoon, I am very happy to meet with you again.  I am glad to see you all looking so well and full of energy.  I almost can’t believe that you are grandparents.  It’s no wonder that they say elders are the backbone of our families and communities.  I really admire your health and spirit.

The only pity, as you know, is that in this era of HIV elders’ traditional roles as leaders, mentors, role models and spiritual advisors have expanded to include the burden – and the privilege – of caretaking.  More than 100 Vietnamese get infected by HIV every day.  Illness, decreased productivity and increasing numbers of orphaned and neglected children are affecting approximately one in 60 households.

But if HIV strikes at the heart of the family, it is the soul of the family that fights back.  Because the majority of new HIV infections are among 20-39 year-olds, parents have become children again, requiring the care and support of their own aging parents.  Many of you expected you would spend this part of your life at ease, cared for by your children; you had counted on filial piety and the families you have spent your lives building to support you.  Sadly, in this era of the HIV pandemic, that tradition of care for the elderly is being rapidly replaced by care from the elderly.  

The elderly have a major caretaking role to play in the response to HIV, but caretakers need care too.  You also need to be supported through these challenging times.  Your local, provincial, and the international communities must recognize your efforts and work with you to identify how best to assist you and ameliorate your burden.

The publication that we are launching today, and the empathy clubs that you participate in, are all committed to building recognition of and support for the roles you are filling.  No parent can bear to think about the grief, the absolute devastation, of giving life to a child, of raising it, loving it, caring for it – and of then having to watch it succumb to this horrific illness.

Your dedication to your families and your strength in the face of tragedy inspire and give hope to those around you.  We thank you for taking on these additional responsibilities with such grace.  For modelling dignity; for teaching those who respect and depend on you the inexhaustibility of compassion; for inspiring us with your love and strength.  I am reminded of a quote by Ho Chi Minh: “Remember, the storm is a good opportunity for the pine and the cypress to show their strength and their stability.”  

This month we are commemorating World AIDS Day.  The theme of this year’s commemoration, leadership, reminds us that everyone can “Take the lead,” from high-level officials to teachers, parents, grandparents, hospitals, churches and PLHIV.

Leadership on HIV requires personal commitment, courage, and setting an example.  You have already taken the lead to write and share the beautiful poems that we awarded and celebrated last time I met with you.  This was a wonderful and touching event that I remember fondly.  I encourage you to also take the lead to share the “HIV:  Know your Legal Rights and Responsibilities” legal card set with your friends and neighbours.  This will help the National Assembly achieve their goals of increasing legal access and social accountability.
We are celebrating the leadership of the elderly once again today.  Although we should all show compassion and care to those living with HIV, there is no one group better than this one before me to model it so profoundly.  Thank you so much for all you have done, and are doing.

Thank you and good health.

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