|A training session for peer educators at a UNICEF-supported HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention programme in Mozambique. A new continent-wide initiative seeks to accelerate HIV prevention in 2006.|
By Sarah Crowe
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 12 April 2006 – In simultaneous launches at four corners of the continent, leaders of the African Union and the United Nations system have made a public declaration to accelerate HIV prevention in all of Africa.
The initiative was launched at mid day yesterday in Addis Ababa, Johannesburg, Ouagadougou and Khartoum as a follow-up to the Declaration by the African Ministers of Health last year to declare 2006 a year for promoting HIV prevention campaigns.
“Unfortunately, up until now too much of the focus has been on treatment and there has been a lack of focus on prevention,” said South Africa’s Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, at the launch event in Johannesburg. “Prevention has become the forgotten child of HIV response. In the absence of a cure, prevention has to be the mainstay in the struggle against AIDS.”
Ms. Tshabalala-Msimang announced that the South African Government had established a fund to scale up its prevention campaign with a mass increase in condom distribution and public awareness efforts. She urged other countries to marshal their own resources rather than rely on outside funds for HIV programmes, and said her government would continue to support the ‘ABC method’ of AIDS prevention – abstinence, being faithful and condom use.
Angélique Kidjo speaks out
Here in South Africa, where HIV prevalence rates are among the world’s highest, women and girls between the ages of 15 and 24 are five times more likely to become infected than males of the same age. A similar pattern exists in many other southern African countries, including Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
At the Johannesburg launch, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo spoke out about the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls.
“This is about the severe inequality that exists between men and women,” said the internationally acclaimed singer from Benin. “And this inequality fosters the spread of HIV in so many ways: By preventing women from deciding if or when or how they want to have sex. By limiting their access to education and health care. By exposing them to appalling levels of violence and sexual abuse. By encouraging them to engage in ‘transactional’ sex or sex with older ‘sugar daddies’. And by depriving them of the right to own or inherit land.
“As a woman,” continued Ms. Kidjo, “I am appalled by the terrifyingly high levels of rape and sexual violence in southern Africa and here in South Africa, in particular. And as the mother of a teenage daughter, I am horrified when I read that one out of eight teenage girls in a Zambian study had been forced to have sex in the past year. Not at some point in their entire lives, but just in the past year.
“In order to stop this violence we need to engage men as genuine partners in the process of change and get political, religious and traditional leaders to speak out forcefully – and regularly – against rape and sexual violence.”