African First Ladies Gather To Discuss HIV/AIDS
On the sidelines of the African Union SummitÂ in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Monday, the General Assembly of the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) gathered to discuss the continent’s progress against HIV/AIDS, Walta Info reports. Woizero Azeb Mesfin, First Lady of Ethiopia and Chair of OAFLA, “called on African first ladies to make every effort to reduce HIV/AIDS deaths in women and prevent mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of the virus” and “said more action is required to prevent the virus, which according to her is the leading cause of death for women”Â (1/31).
“For every dollar spent preventing HIV among children, we save thousands more in treatment avoided,” UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe said in an address at the meeting, according to aÂ UNAIDS feature story. The article describes the recent gains in PMTCT in sub-Saharan Africa: “In 2009, an estimated 54% of pregnant women living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa received antiretroviral medicines to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child, up from 15% in 2005.”
Countries leading the way in this effort include Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland, where “coverage of antiretroviral drugs for PMTCT is now higher than 80%,” according to UNAIDS. The article also provides a breakdown of a reduction of the numbers of children under 15 living in southern Africa who became newly infected with HIV/AIDS and died from AIDS-related deaths.
Despite such gains, an estimated 2.3 million children in sub-Saharan African are living with HIV, according to UNAIDS, which adds, “[i]n many countries across the continent, stigma and discrimination prevent HIV-positive pregnant women from accessing the services they need” (2/1).
“We know that in many African countries, HIV treatment tends to be neglected in the various documents and plans concerned with maternal and child health (MCH), possibly because agencies feel that HIV is not a ‘core business’ for MCH programming, or that it is already overfunded,” Sidibe said, according to a transcript (.pdf) from the meeting. “It is up to organizations like OAFLA, your advocates and your partners, to continually stress the clear linkages between HIV and MCH and the need to integrate efforts among all the [U.N. Millennium Development Goals] MDGs,” he said. Such topics will play a key role in the U.N. General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS, scheduled for June,Â according to Sidibe (1/31).
Mesfin also spoke of the connection between women’s empowerment and health, stating: “Empowering women is not an abstract term â€¦ It means ensuring that African women have adequate food and shelter, are free from disease, deliver their babies safely and stand alongside men equally and confidently,” according to UNAIDS (2/1).
Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, Maria Otero, also spoke at the OAFLA meeting, where she called upon the first ladies “to leverage their leadership positions also to tackle the challenge of human trafficking â€“ particularly of women and girls,” according to a State Department document featuring her remarks.
“Trafficking still exists today â€“ around Africa and around the world â€“ and it is a problem that merits the highest levels of attention,” Otero said. “So today I not only want to thank you for the work you are already doing to combat HIV/AIDS, but also encourage you to take on this additional challenge in your own countries, knowing that the United States is standing ready to support your efforts,” Otero added.
Otero also used the meeting as an opportunity to explain PEPFAR’s commitment over the next few years to “transitioning from an emergency response to a sustainable one through greater engagement with and capacity building of governments” and a scaling up of “highly effective prevention interventions like male circumcision and prevention of mother-to-child transmission, and we have set a goal of providing antiretroviral treatment to 4 million people” (2/1).