The head of the United Nations' AIDS-fighting organization on Tuesday named U.S. fashion designer Kenneth Cole as an international goodwill ambassador, the day before a U.N. General Assembly high-level meeting on AIDS begins.
UNAIDS chief Michel Sidibe said he thought Cole, who has a long history of AIDS activism, could make a "significant and powerful contribution" toward the international goal of ending AIDS by 2030. Sidibe praised Cole for "his commitment, compassion and resolve" and said the designer would help ensure that "no one is left behind."
Cole, who made his name designing upscale clothing and shoes, was one of the first famous figures to speak out publicly about HIV, which hit the fashion industry hard in the 1980s. Cole organized a group of celebrities including supermodels Christie Brinkley and Beverly Johnson and celebrity photographer Annie Liebovitz to produce a public service announcement calling for AIDS research.
At the time, AIDS carried a heavy stigma, so associating it with famous names and faces was a way of drawing support and legitimacy to the cause.
Cole has worked with the Foundation for AIDS Research, known as amfAR, since 1987, joining first as a board member and later serving as chairman. Cole said Tuesday that he hoped to combine his work for the two organizations. He said that "AIDS can be ended as a public health crisis if the resources are available."
On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a group of heads of state, representatives of international organizations, people living with HIV, and others will meet at U.N. headquarters in the United States for a three-day conference on ending AIDS within the next decade and a half.
Topics during the conference will include speeding up existing efforts to meet the deadline, "leaving no one behind" by ending the stigma associated with the virus, and empowering women and young people to prevent new HIV infections through protection of sexual and reproductive health.