By John Zaw
The United Nations yesterday announced opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as an ambassador to its program on HIV/AIDS.
Suu Kyi accepted the invitation to head the program during a meeting with UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé in the capital Naypyidaw, according to an agency statement.
“It is a great honor to be chosen as a champion for people who live on the fringes of society and struggle every day to maintain their dignity and basic human rights,” Suu Kyi said in the statement.
“I would like to be the voice of the voiceless,” added Suu Kyi, who has previously been named as the agency’s global advocate for zero discrimination.
Sidibé said the Nobel laureate was an appropriate choice for the role.
“From small villages to big cities, from Africa to Asia, people are talking about Aung San Suu Kyi. She is inspirational,” he said in the statement.
Eamonn Murphy, country director for UNAIDS in Myanmar, said he was happy that Suu Kyi had accepted the role.
“She would be the voice of HIV- and AIDS-infected people who have no voices,” he told ucanews.com today in an interview in Yangon.
Asked whether Suu Kyi would be an effective ambassador given her commitments as a lawmaker, Murphy said modern technology would allow her to send strong messages of hope in Mynamar and throughout the world.
Earlier this year Suu Kyi addressed an international conference via video link to express her support for those living with HIV/AIDS, Murphy said.
Suu Kyi said that discrimination has “created an environment of fear that prevents people from accessing life-saving HIV services.”
She added: “In Myanmar we are currently treating more than 40,000 people living with HIV. It is important that everyone who suspects they may be at risk seeks an HIV test and knows their HIV status early, so they can prevent new infections and can access life-saving treatment when needed.”
An estimated 216,000 people, 36 percent of them women, were living with HIV in Myanmar in 2011, according to the Global AIDS Response Progress Report for 2012.
An estimated 18,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses last year, with new infections estimated at more than 8,000.