UNAIDS Viet Nam Speech at VNP+ Annual Review Workshop, 24-26 August 2009

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends.
When speaking to international journalists earlier this year, Michel Sidibe, the executive director of UNAIDS, said that we should no longer ‘see [HIV] as a problem.’ It is the position of UNAIDS that HIV is a challenge, and challenges bring opportunity. According to Mr Sidibe, HIV can be ‘a political opportunity to trigger profound changes in society and to talk about difficult issues like sex education, homophobia and human rights issues in general. It could be a way to transform and rebuild society around the social needs of the population.’
I am very pleased to be standing here today, addressing the Viet Nam National Network of People Living with HIV on the organisation’s one year anniversary. What an honour to be here, and to learn from you. What a feat you have accomplished in a single year. You are at the forefront of the kind of change UNAIDS envisions.

First and foremost, you have registered the network and made it an official organization in the eyes of the State. This task was anything but simple. I commend you for your patience and perseverance.
VNP+ may be a new organization, but it is an active one. Your voice in Viet Nam is loud and strong – and it is listened to at all levels. I am very pleased that members of VNP+ are participating in the Country Coordinating Mechanism of the Global Fund (for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria). This is an organizational body with great responsibility, and it is accountable both nationally and internationally. Moreover, VNP+ has taken part in the CSO (Civil Society Organisation) Forum and contributed substantially to PEPFAR’s 2009 Country Operational Plan. As you know, PEPFAR is the biggest donor to HIV programming in Viet Nam. Thanks to VNP+, PLHIV were able to stand up and speak with one voice and as a result, you are driving the national response. You are steering. You are deciding how money is spent.
And just last week VNP+ was represented, and spoke at, the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific.
What an incredible first year.
This afternoon you will begin setting your priorities and designing your work plan for the next 12 months. I don’t need to tell you how important this task is. I have every confidence that it will be done in a way you can be proud of. And of course, whatever you decide to include in your work plan, I assure you that UNAIDS will stand by and support you in its implementation.
From our side, we are hoping that this workshop will reaffirm your current priorities and commitments: to build the network’s capacity and membership so that it can truly support and speak for PLHIV across the country, and to facilitate the establishment of local and regional PLHIV networks. This is particularly crucial in the central region, where resources and support services are scarce.
UNAIDS is not a traditional NGO. We do not implement programmes. In the words of Michel Sidibe, we are ‘a political agent which has to demand change.’ As such, our support to VNP+ in 2009-2010 will focus on institutional strengthening to enable the network to take on a greater organisational and advocacy role. For example, we will provide technical assistance and capacity building on institutional development and governance to strengthen and develop national, regional and provincial networks of PLHIV. We will also act on VNP+’s behalf with Government and donors, advocating for the meaningful participation of self help groups and VNP+ in AIDS programming.
Normally, UNAIDS offices around the world consider themselves the ‘voice for the voiceless.’ But in Viet Nam things are a bit different. You already have a voice. A strong one. So here we offer ourselves to you as your echo. You decide what you want, what is best for you, and we will repeat it again and again before development partners until we see real change.
Thank you for your ongoing commitment and thank you for taking part in this workshop. I am confident that UNAIDS’ partnership with VNP+ will continue, and it is my great hope that in this next year it will become closer and more productive as well.
Thank you for your kind attention. Chuc suc khoe.

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