First Lady implores young women to take the lead in fight against HIV

First Lady Jeannette Kagame addressing a session on ending HIV/AIDS in young women and adolescents that is part of the ongoing ICASA meeting in Kigali on Wednesday. The session was organised by UNICEF. Courtesy

First Lady, Jeannette Kagame has encouraged young women to take the lead in the fight against HIV/AIDS among their peers.

She was speaking at session entitled “Ending HIV epidemic among adolescent girls and young women in Africa: what will it take?”, at the ongoing international conference on AIDs and STIs in Africa (ICASA).

Mrs Kagame called upon the young women to believe that they are valuable, because “none else understand their challenges better.”

She told them that despite their potentials, their challenges make them the most vulnerable groups affected by HIV/AIDS, which proves why their contribution is needed in the fight. 

Mrs. Kagame extended the “what will it take?” question to both elders and young women.

“What will it take for us, elders, to prepare you to face the realities of this world? What will it take for you, our girls, to recognize the tremendous power inherent in each one of you, and act upon it?” she asked.

The First Lady also called for reassessment of plans against HIV/AIDS among young women and adolescent girls.

“We are striving to attain universal health coverage. But too many adolescent girls and young women continue to fall through the cracks. So let’s assess our battle plan,” she emphasized.

The session was also attended by the Minister of Health, Diane Gashumba, Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, Solina Nyirahabimana, and other civil society organisations from across the continent.

Achievements observed

Mrs Kagame observed achievements made in keeping adolescent and young women away from the epidemic.

She highlighted that through her organisation, Imbuto Foundation, over 300,000 young women were reached and trained across the country.

She explained that through projects such as “Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health”, Imbuto Foundation has helped adolescents and youth to access birth control counseling, HIV and STI testing, as well as gender-based violence prevention services.

The session, which was organized by UNICEF, also featured a panel discussion that also discussed what it really takes to end HIV/AIDS in young women and adolescent girls. The panel brought together young female activists, scientists and elders.

Zandile Simelane is a 23-year-old who was diagnosed with HIV when she was 17.

She comes from the Kingdom of eSwatini

While appearing on the panel, she said it will only take the young women to end the epidemic.

“It takes us, young women and adolescent girls to end HIV/AIDS among ourselves. Then others can join,” she said.

Key takeaway answers to “what it takes” revolved around making sexual and reproductive health and rights education accessible and discouraging cultures that nurture stigma.

According to UNAIDS, women account for three of every five new HIV infections in Sub-Saharan Africa among 15-to-19 year- olds. Furthermore, adolescent girls and young women are twice as likely to be living with HIV than young men of the same age.

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