I attended a UNAIDS reception this week where Annie Lennox was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for the agency to use her voice to raise attention to HIV/AIDS issues. The reception was part of the Women Deliver 2010 Conference in DC. Women Deliver is a global advocacy organization that brings together voices from around the world to call for action against maternal death.
There was a sweet unscripted moment that showed the human side of this community of researchers, advocates and policymakers. From the podium, UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé was introducing Annie Lennox when he spotted Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization.
He asked her to come up to the podium to sing with their guest. She laughed and made a joke that she knew she’d have to sing for her supper. And then she did! She sang a few lines of a song, adapting the last to be about working together on these issues.
It was a light hearted moment in the midst of very serious, and for many in the room, literally life-or-death issues. There are about 16 million women over the age of 15 who are living with HIV worldwide. In many parts of the world, women have a higher risk of HIV than men. HIV increases maternal mortality by 20 percent. In areas like sub-Saharan Africa, where women make up two-thirds of the people living with HIV, that number can rise to 50 percent. Advocates are encouraging donors to continue to fund programs that can keep people alive with effective treatment, cut mother-to-child HIV transmission during pregnancy and prevent HIV infection.
And what better way to advocate than with a song. Apologizing for a sore throat, Annie Lennox took the stage and belted out a song she wrote based on an educational song about treatment she heard in South Africa.
Facts and statistics help build a case and prove points. Stories can help people relate to the issues. But sometimes, a song can make you stop and listen more closely, whether it’s earnestly sung by a award winning artist or surprisingly by the head of the WHO.