Feature story

Women Deliver conference focuses on MDG 5

08 June 2010

L to R: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moonL to R: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador, Annie Lennox and UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé. 07 June 2010. Credit: UNAIDS/S.Johnson

With maternal and reproductive health as a global priority, a three-day conference, Women Deliver 2010, has kicked off in Washington DC under the theme "Invest in women. It pays." The event’s main focus is to highlight that the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) will not be achieved without investing in women and that there is just enough time, if the world commits funding now, to achieve the MDG’s fifth goal of improving maternal health.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé and newly appointed UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador Annie Lennox gave the welcome address and opening plenary on the first day of the conference.

“If we integrate HIV into maternal health programmes, we can make huge progress on almost every global development goal. We can stop mothers from dying of HIV and dramatically reduce maternal mortality. Let’s join together,” said Mr Sidibé.

Ms Lennox, who spoke on the topic Women Need a World that Delivers added, "I believe that the AIDS response is an excellent entry-point to better invest in women and girls at all levels, and to advance women's sexual and reproductive rights. We need to empower women and girls so that they can better protect themselves and take control of their own sexual and reproductive health."

I believe that the AIDS response is an excellent entry-point to better invest in women and girls at all levels, and to advance women's sexual and reproductive rights

Annie Lennox, UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador

About 16 million women over the age of 15 are living with HIV worldwide and in sub-Saharan Africa, women make up almost two-thirds of people living with HIV. In many parts of the world, women have a higher risk of HIV than men.

In cultures where gender inequality persists, women are likely to face barriers in accessing HIV, maternal and reproductive health services due to limited decision-making power, lack of control over financial resources, restricted mobility and child-care responsibilities.

A recent study published in the medical journal The Lancet projects that globally HIV has increased maternal mortality by 20%. While maternal mortality has been on the decline globally, it has been on the rise in many sub-Saharan Africa countries, because of HIV. In South Africa, it is estimated that more than 50% of all maternal deaths can be attributed to HIV.

Considerable progress, however, has been made on the treatment front. Over the years, more women have been able to access HIV treatment services. This is primarily due to the fact that more women are accessing antenatal services to prevent HIV transmission to their infants, and more women are coming forward for HIV counselling and testing.

Former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet (left) Former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet (left) meets with UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé during Women Deliver 2010 conference in Washington D.C. Credit: Sylvia Johnson

With over 2,000 participants from 115 countries, including 100 government officials from more than 30 countries, the conference was also the platform to announce the initiation of the first trial among women in Africa testing a vaginal ring containing an antiretroviral drug that could one day be used to prevent HIV transmission during sex.

The technology, if successfully tested, would give women around the world a tool to protect themselves from HIV infection. The trial has been initiated by non-profit International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM).

Speaking on the trial, Mr Sidibe said, "Preventing HIV transmission is essential if we are to win the battle in the long-term and protect the health and safety of future generations. If successful, innovations, like microbicides, could have an extraordinary impact.”

The conference, which ends on 9 June 2010, includes over 300 speakers in 118 separate sessions over three days. Topics included “Modern Contraception Comes of Age”, “Strategies to Address Sexually Transmitted Infections” and “Girls Speak: Exploring the Girl Effect”.