Why is supporting the HIV cause so important to you, and why did you want to become a UNAIDS international goodwill ambassador?

"I have always been a strong believer in women supporting other women. In my life I’ve been lucky enough to have been inspired and supported by fantastic women who have changed my outlook on life and who have inspired me to believe in myself and in my abilities.

"Working with UNAIDS has given me the opportunity to meet some incredible women living with HIV and the people supporting them—the community health workers, peer support groups, the nurses, doctors who have dedicated their lives to helping people living with HIV. If I can lend my support to make change by using my voice to share their stories, then of course I’m going to do it – who wouldn’t?"

 

What challenges do we still face in the fight against HIV?

"What I didn’t realise is the huge impact that HIV is still having on families and communities, particularly in Africa. There are around 37 million people now living with HIV around the world, the highest number ever, and most are in Africa. Living with HIV isn’t easy.

"Firstly, you have to know your status and get tested— 9.4 million people  living with HIV still don’t know they have the virus, which is why UNAIDS is focusing this year’s World AIDS Day Campaign around testing.

"Secondly, you have to deal with the stigma that is still rampant in many parts of the world — do I tell my family? How do I protect my partner? What if my employer finds out? Are my kids OK?

"Thirdly, you have to start taking treatment every day for the rest of your life… It’s a tough disease to deal with both physically and mentally, and people are still becoming infected at an alarmingly high rate.

"As UNAIDS has shown, we still have miles to goto end AIDS. 1.8 million people became newly infected last year—it’s clear that a lot more needs to be done."

 

Photo credit: UNAIDS

What have been your most powerful experiences as a UNAIDS international goodwill ambassador?

"For me, it has been meeting the women who are struggling every day to make a better life for their children. Some are literally putting their lives on the line just to make ends meet so that they can make sure their children are fed, are healthy and can go to school in the hope that they will have better life in the future. As a mother I can’t help but be moved by that.

"When you have children, the most important thing is making sure that they’re OK—our kids come first, always. And it’s the children I met while I was travelling in Ethiopia with UNAIDS, children born with HIV whose parents have died of AIDS. This is a tragedy that is still happening around the world today despite the availability of preventative medicines."

 

Are you optimistic that we can one day live in a world that is free of HIV?

"I strongly believe that finding a vaccine and a cure is possible, and I am confident that will happen in my lifetime. Until then, there are many things that we can do today to stop the impact HIV is having on people, on families and on communities.

"We can stop the stigma by talking and teaching and sharing the right information around HIV.

"Overcoming the stigma will allow young people to get the right information about how to protect themselves and stop new infections. It will allow people who think they may have been at risk of HIV to come forward to get tested and it will allow people living with HIV to not be afraid of taking treatment and seeking the care and support they need. Ending AIDS, yes one day—ending the impact of HIV…. we can do that today."

 

Photo credit: UNAIDS