Interview with Sigrun Mogedal, recently honoured by Norway for her contribution to the global AIDS response
13 January 2011
Dr Sigrun Mogedal, former Norwegian AIDS Ambassador, has received the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav for "distinguished services rendered to the country and humanity". Dr Mogedal, a physician by training, has contributed significantly towards international health cooperation.
When Dr Mogedal visited Geneva recently, UNAIDS took the opportunity to talk to her about the future of the AIDS response, the importance of youth leadership, and the Order of St. Olav:
UNAIDS: What are the challenges facing the AIDS response in the coming years?
Sigrun Mogedal: We need a change from the old way of thinking which was that if you mobilise more money, you’re going to fix HIV. There has been an expectation that solutions will come from the donors, rather than from each country themselves. Turning this idea around is one of the big challenges in all areas of global health.
Also, those of us that have been part of global health for a long time have come to a point where we repeat, rather than renew, ways of doing things.
While we have come a long way, maybe now there is a need for new people, new creativity and new ways of doing business in both health and AIDS. Therefore we need to create a space for new people, for young people, with their creativity, their energy, their ways of understanding complexity and ways forward.
UNAIDS: Are you seeing this in the AIDS response today?
Sigrun Mogedal: I think the new UNAIDS strategy is taking one step in that direction. I think the way UNAIDS is talking about taking AIDS out of isolation is another step. What we see in China and South Africa who are both taking charge [of their own epidemics] is definitely new. Yet some of the choices you need to make in each country are not politically attractive; it’s an agenda you don’t win elections from it. So, you need a push in order to make sure that the agenda isn’t lost.
In global discussions it tends to be easier to mobilise for issues where there are fairly simple solutions. With the HIV response, we are now aware that some of the hardest things—in terms of human rights or marginalised populations—we haven’t yet been able to address neither in the north nor in the south.
In global discussions it tends to be easier to mobilise for issues where there are fairly simple solutions. With the HIV response, we are now aware that some of the hardest things, we haven’t yet been able to address neither in the north nor in the south.
Dr Sigrun Mogedal, former AIDS Ambassador of Norway and recipient of Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav
UNAIDS: How do you see the current economic climate affecting the AIDS response and what can countries do to mitigate the impact?
Sigrun Mogedal: It’s extremely complex and difficult to say how the economic crisis directly affects a country’s AIDS response.
Sometimes financial crisis, or the fact that you don’t have everything, helps you to move in a direction where you’re more effective and efficient and where you find new ways of doing things better.
Rather than saying “I have this big bag of money and I want to use it,” instead see what are the hard choices I may need to make and how can I bring together different efforts that work towards the same purpose.
Of course that’s not the whole story, because unless you have money, unless you can lower drug prices, unless you have delivery systems with health workers in place— and they need their salaries—there’s no way to maintain and sustain the response.
Countries need to include health and social services as part of their own commitment to growth and development. You can’t get that from outside. You really have to have a policy that drives change from the inside, and that’s what you need for the HIV response too.
UNAIDS: You have been at the forefront of bringing up a new generation of leadership in the AIDS response; why is this important?
Sigrun Mogedal: First of all it’s important because a number of us who’ve been engaged for a long time are getting old, and, like me, are retiring [laughs].
But also the way we’re trained and act is not that helpful in dealing with complexity. We’re not so clever when we see a complex situation at understanding how you can think and engage in different ways. Somehow we’re set in our own ways.
But when I speak to young people, they have an energy and ability to navigate new ways of communication. I’m really amazed at how they are able to see all possibilities. They don’t need much encouragement as their curiosity and concern for justice, is not just programmatic but something they carry inside themselves. It inspires me.
I’ve been working alongside Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway whose main focus is young people and the AIDS response. She has been helping me to open those doors and open my mind to what that means.
UNAIDS: What does receiving the Order of St. Olav mean to you?
Sigrun Mogedal: The value of this kind of recognition is that it highlights the issues and concerns you’ve been engaged in. So it’s not something that has to do with me as a person but it demonstrates the value of the issues. Like in my case, my engagement through the church and its values towards justice, equity, and HIV and global health. To be able to use this opportunity and show that these things have significance and are recognised as important is wonderful.
UNAIDS: What is the one thing that you’re most proud of in your distinguished career?
Sigrun Mogedal: It’s not so much about feeling pride of a particular achievement, but rather being a part of a process that makes it possible for others people who’ve been maybe marginalised to stand up, straighten their backs, feel that they have dignity and value, and can do something. Being a part of that, every time you feel you have contributed a little thing. And that’s what makes you feel warm inside, what makes you proud to be part of something.