As lead singer of the band Eurythmics and a solo artist, Annie Lennox is known around the world for a successful music career that spans over three decades. In her new role as a celebrity advocate for the United Nations, she is giving voice to millions of women and girls suffering with HIV and AIDS, an issue close to the heart of this mother of two daughters.
“As a woman and a mother, I have a direct experience with what parenthood is about and I appreciate how precious every child is to their parent,” Ms. Lennox said in an interview with the UN News Centre.
“That is something that is sacred and if we as mothers are not given the tools to survive and cope, educate and nourish, and protect our own children, there’s something really wrong.”
About 16 million women over the age of 15 are living with HIV worldwide and in sub-Saharan Africa, women make up almost two-thirds of people living with HIV, according to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). In many parts of the world, women have a higher risk of HIV than men.
Ms. Lennox, who was appointed as an International Goodwill Ambassador for UNAIDS in June, is no stranger to social activism, having worked with organizations such as Oxfam, Amnesty International and Greenpeace.
But it was a trip to South Africa in 2003 as one of the artists invited to perform at the launch of the 46664 Foundation – Nelson Mandela’s global HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaign – that led her to get involved more deeply with the issue.
It was during that trip and subsequent visits to South Africa that Ms. Lennox learned more about the toll of HIV and AIDS on the country, which Mr. Mandela described to her as a ‘genocide,’ and visited clinics and orphanages to see the impact of the pandemic first hand.
“When I left South Africa after those experiences that I’d had, I just understood that this was something that I had to speak up about,” she said. “It was just something that affected me deeply.”
According to UNAIDS, South Africa has the world’s largest population of people living with HIV. An estimated 5.7 million people in the country are living with the virus, of whom approximately 3.2 million are women and 280,000 are children up to the age of 14.
The more Ms. Lennox learned about the issue, the more she felt the need to do more “hands on” work. In October 2007, she launched her own “SING” campaign, working to raise awareness and support for women and children affected by the AIDS pandemic in Southern Africa.
She is also a member of Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), which is a grassroots campaign based in South Africa that works for the rights of people with HIV and AIDS. In addition, she was recently appointed an envoy for HIV and AIDS in her native Scotland.
In her new role with UNAIDS Ms. Lennox will highlight issues such as gender inequality, violence against women and stigmatization, as well as the need to empower women and girls so that they can better protect themselves against HIV and AIDS.
Last month she joined UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé in Washington for the Women Deliver 2010 conference, at which they called for greater investment in women to achieve Millennium Development Goal (MDG) number 5 on improving maternal health.
They also repeated the call for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2015. More than 90 per cent of infant and young child infections occur through mother-to-child transmission, either during pregnancy, labour and delivery, or breastfeeding. Without intervention, about one in three children born to mothers living with HIV will become infected, according to UNAIDS.
Later this month, Ms. Lennox will join her UN partners at the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, the premier gathering for those working in the field of HIV, as well as policymakers, persons living with HIV and other individuals committed to ending the pandemic.
Ms. Lennox stressed that leadership is crucial to overcoming the obstacles to preventing HIV and AIDS, and to effectively addressing the pandemic.
“I think when you have leadership that is prepared to tackle the issues, to work with civil society, to work with government and to work with the system… then you have a chance.”
She noted in particular that if South Africa can make headway in addressing HIV and AIDS, it could serve as “a beacon of hope” for the entire continent.