African First Ladies determined to speed up AIDS response
04 July 2007
Representatives from more than 20 countries gathered in Accra, Ghana on the occasion of the 5th General Assembly of the Organization of African First Ladies Against AIDS (OAFLA) held on the margins of the 9th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union.
During her opening speech, the First Lady of Ghana, Mrs. Theresa Kufuor, urged her counterparts and colleagues on the continent to increase their commitment to assist their various governments in responding to AIDS, working towards ambitious national targets on HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.
“Let us be more conscious of the negative impact of AIDS on our people and let us increase our desire to make a difference,” she said. “ Africa bears the brunt of the pandemic, with women and girls at a greater risk as a result of their socio cultural subordination,” she added.
Mrs. Kufuor stressed that women and girls are at heightened risk of HIV infection as a result of their economic, and socio-cultural situation and that sexual assault and violence against women and girls also heightens their vulnerability to HIV.
Added to that, she said, is the fact that a large section of the population still does not believe they are at risk of infection while in most African countries stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV discourage many people from undergoing voluntary tests and disclosing their status to sexual partners.
For her part, First Lady of Zambia and OAFLA President Maureen Mwanawasa said the gathering should prompt the First Ladies to reflect on the enormity of the tasks and challenges posed by AIDS. “As mothers, we cannot afford to stand by and watch AIDS redefine the meaning of childhood for millions of our children. It is important that we embrace interventions that will promote the birth of an AIDS-free generation,” she said .
According to Mrs. Mwanawasa, even though most governments have implemented a number of Prevention of Mother-to-child Transmission (PMTCT) HIV programmes, there are still many gaps in delivery systems, including inadequate training for health staff, unsustainable support programmes, lack of effective monitoring and evaluation programmes, week referral systems between health centres and the community, insufficient community involvement and limited income generating activities for those affected by AIDS.
In her presentation of the recent key achievements of OAFLA, President Mwanawasa noted the development of an action plan from 2006 to 2008, with focus on PMTCT, the production of financial procedures manual to guide and regulate OAFLA’s expenditures as well as the mobilization of equipment and financial resources to strengthen its regional offices and executive secretariat.
She also pointed out the strengthening of partnerships with a number of organizations, including UNAIDS and PEPFAR.
In his address at the opening ceremony, UNAIDS, Country Coordinator Dr Roger Salla Ntounga underlined the importance of “partnership for an expanded and effective response” and stressed the need to address the fundamental drivers of the epidemic, especially gender inequality and the low status of women.
The United Nations System represented by Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, Vice President Africa Region at the World Bank, Dr Roger Salla Ntounga of UNAIDS and Dr.Lalla Toure of UNICEF commended the First Ladies for their unwavering support and advocacy which have been instrumental in Africa’s AIDS response. They reaffirmed the support of their organizations to OAFLA in line with the common objectives to move towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010.
Mrs. Azeb Mesfin, First Lady of Ethiopia and Vice President of OAFLA has offered to host the next OAFLA meeting in her country, in September 2007, in the context of the upcoming Ethiopian Millennium Campaign.