First Lady Jeannette Kagame has urged fellow African first ladies to forge new ways and partnerships to fight HIV/AIDS disease among the youth on the continent.
Mrs Kagame was speaking at the 18th General Assembly of the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), on the sidelines of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, yesterday.
This year’s General Assembly coincided with the commemoration of the OAFLA 15th anniversary and was marked under the theme, “Building on 15 years of engagement to harness the demographic dividend of Africa through promoting the needs of adolescents and their access to youth-friendly health services.”
“As we take a moment to evaluate our 15-year journey, I ask you to not only celebrate the achievements realised, thanks to our growing commitment, and that of our valued partners, but to also take a moment to reflect upon the work we are yet to do,” Mrs Kagame said.
In July 2016, UNICEF announced that AIDS is still the number one cause of death for those aged 10–19 in Africa with the most susceptible being girls.
“A child dies of an AIDS-related illness every minute, and we lose at least one million people to this pandemic every year. This is the reason we cannot give up, why we must never give up, why we will never give up,” the First Lady said.
She urged her counterparts and other stakeholders to look into the depths of the African cultures and create socially-responsible initiatives, well-thought-out programmes and campaigns that will encourage prevention and treatment, while fighting stigma in communities.
The First Lady called for intensive efforts towards achieving the ‘90-90-90 target’ by 2020.
The UNAIDS-instituted 90-90-90 targets aim at diagnosing 90 per cent of all HIV positive people, providing antiretroviral therapy (ART) for 90 per cent of those diagnosed and achieving viral suppression for 90 per cent of those treated, by 2020.
The UNAIDS recently adopted the strategy toward ending the AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. The strategy is aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals.
Reducing new infections, according to World Health Organisation (WHO), will require increased use of condoms, sustainable programmes to encourage changes in sexual behaviour, affordable methods for preventing infection in high-risk populations and expanded treatments for preventing mother-to-child transmissions.
“We must further build on the work done, maintain public-private partnerships to stay the course in this fight against AIDS,” Mrs Kagame said, adding that it is everyone’s responsibility to give future generations the chance to stay free from HIV/AIDS.
According to UNAIDS, Rwanda faces a generalised epidemic, with an HIV prevalence rate of 3.1 per cent among adults aged 15 to 49. The prevalence rate has remained relatively stable, with an overall decline since the late 1990s, partly due to improved HIV surveillance methodology.
According to the Ministry of Health, there is a “significant progress” toward achieving the UNAIDS ‘90-90-90 targets’.
Last year, the ministry launched the ‘Treat-All’ campaign, putting more emphasis on HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support, as well as general sexual and reproductive health, among adolescents and young people.
In 2001, Rwanda launched a national programme aimed at reducing, and eventually eliminating mother-to-child transmission of the virus. The First Lady observed that as a result, sixteen years later, 97 per cent of health facilities in Rwanda provide services for the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission.
Through these services, Mrs Kagame says, HIV transmissions from mother to child have since dropped from over 10 per cent to 1.8 per cent in 10 years.
The OAFLA meeting
Present at the meet were first ladies of Comoros, Ethiopia, Malawi, Chad, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Niger, Namibia, Zambia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Namibia.
The First Lady of Malawi, and current President of OAFLA, Dr Gertrude Mutharika, expressed her joy of being able to celebrate the 15th anniversary of OAFLA, saying the long journey was “a story of conquest, as we stand firm in the battle against HIV/AIDS.”
She said although African nations may differ, they (first ladies) are united by their desire to “end poverty, and entrench processes for sustainable progress.” She said the OAFLA meeting in New York, on the margins of the UN General Assembly, will serve as resource mobilisation for the All-in Adolescent campaign.