First Lady named UNAIDS Special Ambassador for Adolescents

First Lady Mrs Jeannette Kagame receives her recognition as Special Ambassador for Adolescent Health and Well-being from Michel Sidibe, UNAIDS Executive Director, at Kigali Convention Centre yesterday. Courtesy.

First Lady Jeannette Kagame has been named the Special Ambassador for Adolescents Health and Well-being by the United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS).

During a presentation on the Status of Global HIV Response yesterday, UNAIDS Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General for the United Nations, Michel Sidibe, recognised Mrs Kagame for her commitment in advocating and pushing for the elimination of HIV/AIDS by 2030, as well as ensuring the health and well-being of adolescents.

Michel Sidibe, UNAIDS Executive Director

He commended Mrs Kagame from bridging the gap between leaders and vulnerable populations, in terms of inclusiveness in HIV prevention, care and treatment, and social impact mitigation.

“You have helped masses move from great sadness and despair to hope,” he told Mrs Kagame. “It is with the utmost respect and gratitude that I say thank you for everything you have done and all you continue to do to towards the elimination of HIV/AIDS,” he added.

In less than 10 years, The number of infected Rwandans accessing HIV treatment has doubled, effectively reducing HIV related deaths by almost 50 per cent since 2010. According to the 2018 HIV annual report, around 189,000 people living with HIV were on life-saving antiretroviral therapy, representing 92.3 per cent of all people estimated to know their HIV status. Retention of treatment was 91.5 per cent, while viral load suppression, after 12 months on treatment, was 91 per cent, the report states.

Dr Diane Gashumba, Minister for Health

Sidibe also commended the Rwandan government for ensuring that more than 90 per cent of health-care facilities provide HIV testing. Between July 2017 and June 2018, more than 2.5 million people accessed HIV testing and counselling programmes. In 2017, the Government of Rwanda adopted HIV self-testing as an additional HIV testing approach and promoted both free distribution and private purchase through pharmacies.

In her acceptance remarks, the First Lady said that the recognition by UNAIDS went beyond highlighting her efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Rwanda and ensuring the health and well-being of adolescents, but that it, in fact, served to also honour the stakeholders and partner, with whose support she could not have achieved what she has achieved to-date.

“To be named Special Ambassador of Adolescent Health and Wellbeing, by an institution committed to seeing healthier communities around the world, is something that I cannot take lightly - and for that, I am humbled and sincerely grateful,” Mrs Kagame said.

Mrs Kagame described her journey in the fight against HIV/AIDS as one inspired by her deep desire to influence the change needed to fight the disease.

“My involvement in the fight against HIV/AIDS, as well as contributing to the health and wellbeing of our biggest asset – our youth, was inspired by my deep desire, and duty, to leverage my position as a First Lady, to effect the change we needed,” she said.

“The journey I embarked on, along with my team, since 2001, was one rooted in the conviction to see all Rwandans, educated, and living a dignified and prosperous life, as I believed that it was what they deserved.”

Through this journey, she has witnessed “tremendous positive change” which, she explained, could not have been possible without Rwanda’s visionary leadership.

“Indeed, we have seen effective ecosystems emerge, through relevant development strategies and strong frameworks, thus allowing my organisation, and others working in the field, to amplify our impact,” she noted.

Despite the progress made, Mrs Kagame called on all present not to give in to complacency, as it stood to dismantle what had been achieved so far in ensuring that all men, women and children, are equipped with the knowledge and resources to live safe, and healthy lives.

“We cannot sit back with the satisfaction that the worst is behind us. As the face of HIV/AIDS continues to change, we must remain vigilant, in order to respond to emerging challenges, in a timely manner,” Mrs Kagame warned.

In accepting the lifetime role as UNAIDS Special Ambassador, the First Lady pledged to continue advocating for the elimination of HIV/AIDS, especially looking at its effects on youth and adolescents.

“I recommit to strengthening my efforts and playing an unwavering role in advocating for and pushing towards, the elimination of AIDS by the year 2030. Most importantly, I recommit to the elimination of its risk among youth and adolescents in Rwanda, and across the globe,” she said.