Preventing new HIV infections among children is the focus of a meeting of African First Ladies

Bookmark and Share

Feature story

Preventing new HIV infections among children is the focus of a meeting of African First Ladies

01 February 2011

(from left) 11-year-old Oluebuechukwu Sylvia Taylor and her mother Uchechukwu Florence

Preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) was high on the agenda at a General Assembly of the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), held 31 January in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“For every dollar spent preventing HIV among children, we save thousands more in treatment avoided,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé, addressing the gathering of African First Ladies, as well as representatives from civil society and the United Nations. “We are making so much progress for mothers and children, but gains are fragile.”

In recent years, African countries—together with national and international partners—have made great strides in reducing the rate of new HIV infections among children. In 2009, an estimated 54% of pregnant women living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa received antiretroviral medicines to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child, up from 15% in 2005. Several countries are leading the way, including Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland, where coverage of antiretroviral drugs for PMTCT is now higher than 80%.

Empowering women is not an abstract term. It means ensuring that African women have adequate food and shelter, are free from disease, deliver their babies safely and stand alongside men equally and confidently

H.E. Woizero Azeb Mesfin, First Lady of Ethiopia and Chair of OAFLA

In the 10 countries of southern Africa*, the number of children under 15 who became newly infected with HIV fell from 190 000 in 2004 to 130 000 in 2009—a 32% reduction. AIDS-related deaths among children in southern Africa have declined by 26%, from an estimated 120 000 in 2004 to 90 000 in 2009.

Despite progress, some 2.3 million children in sub-Saharan African are living with HIV. In many countries across the continent, stigma and discrimination prevent HIV-positive pregnant women from accessing the services they need.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé addressed the General Assembly of the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), 31 January 2011, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“I am pleading with you all to join hands and save our future,” said 11-year-old Oluebuechukwu Sylvia Taylor, the daughter of an HIV-positive woman who spoke at the OAFLA meeting. “No child should have to die because of HIV. Let’s work together to ensure zero mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Africa.” Ms Taylor was born HIV-negative as a result of her mother taking antiretroviral drugs during the pregnancy.

In nearly all countries in sub-Saharan Africa, a majority of people living with HIV are women, especially girls and women aged 15-24. The most recent prevalence data show that 13 women in sub-Saharan Africa become infected with HIV for every 10 men. Addressing gender inequalities and empowering women and girls are seen as critical to effective HIV responses in the region.

We are seeing success in the fight against HIV/AIDS. As partners of Africa, our challenge is to maintain and increase this momentum

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

“Empowering women is not an abstract term,” said H.E. Woizero Azeb Mesfin, First Lady of Ethiopia and Chair of OAFLA. “It means ensuring that African women have adequate food and shelter, are free from disease, deliver their babies safely and stand alongside men equally and confidently.” With funding from UNAIDS, the First Ladies recently launched a campaign aimed at increasing PMTCT services and eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

African Union Summit

The meeting of First Ladies was held alongside the 16th African Union Summit, a gathering of 24 Heads of State from across the African continent and a host of other leaders and dignitaries, including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“We are seeing success in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” said Mr Ban, in his remarks at the opening ceremony of the Summit. “As partners of Africa, our challenge is to maintain and increase this momentum,” he added.

The HIV response is one successful example of “humanity acting in solidarity,” said Bingu wa Mutharika, the President of Malawi and outgoing Chair of the African Union, in discussions with the UNAIDS Executive Director. “We must continue our efforts to deploy antiretroviral treatment to those affected, and we should not be complacent about fighting stigma,” he said.

 

* Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.