Zimbabwe, 28 May 2012: Disparities must be addressed to achieve women’s and children’s rights in the fight against HIV/AIDS, says UNICEF
By Elizabeth B. Mupfumira
Harare, Zimbabwe 28, May 2012 – At the inaugural GlobalPOWER Women Network Africa high level meeting, a gathering of top African women leaders, civil society and development partners, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Elhadj As Sy called for urgent action to reduce disparities in terms of HIV prevention as well as sexual and reproductive health.
“When it comes to AIDS, we have to realize that we are all not equal,” said Mr. Sy, highlighting the disparities on the African continent between those who are benefitting from high standards of healthcare, and those who are denied access to such services because they can’t afford to pay for them, because they lack education or because they live in a marginalized region. “The different views and understanding of risk and vulnerabilities need to be addressed first.”
The Summit, co-organized by UNAIDS and the African Union, concluded on Friday with the “Harare Call to Action”, which will be presented to the African Union summit in July to help influence decision making on key issues affecting women and girls in the context of HIV and AIDS.
The Summit was opened by Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, who praised women for their role in sustaining society and called for the eradication of all impediments to women empowerment, gender equality and equity.
“Too many women are still afflicted by daily challenges in the homes, in the communities and at their places of work – challenges which we must consistently strive to minimize or eliminate,” said President Mugabe. “It is the only way to eradicate the HIV and AIDS pandemic and alleviate extreme poverty.”
He also decried the rising levels of abuse against women and children, which have become increasingly prevalent, but at times tolerated in African society. In Zimbabwe, for example, the latest Demographic and Health Survey reveals that 38 per cent of women aged 15-49 have experienced physical violence at age 15 or later; in 90 per cent of the cases the violence was perpetrated by male relatives.
“Empowering women and girls to protect themselves against an HIV infection and gender-based violence is a non-negotiable in the AIDS response,” said Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “Yet many countries are not delivering the results needed to achieve many of the Millennium Development Goals,” he said.
Despite the challenges, much progress has been made, and there is still hope to meet MDG 6 of combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases. Using the example of a clinic he visited at the outskirts of Harare, where 95 per cent of HIV-positive women had given birth to HIV free babies, Mr. Sidibe highlighted that “Getting to Zero” was well within the continent’s reach if governments were held accountable to their commitments to women and girls.
On the sidelines of the summit, Mr. Sy interacted with youth from Africaid, a UNICEF partner organization that supports children and young people living with HIV, at the agency’s office in Harare. Through its “Zvandiri” (translation: As I am) programme Africaid provides holistic care for children and young people through combined health services, and psychosocial support and care.
The children and young people spoke about the challenges they face, particularly when it comes to disclosing their status, living with stigma and ensuring prevention and adherence to treatment. They also spoke about their dreams and aspirations for the future. After hearing their stories, Mr. Sy stressed that UNICEF is committed to supporting children and adolescents living with HIV in having a healthy and productive life, and in realizing their full potential in life.
“You are all a lesson to everyone,” said Mr. Sy. “You show leadership qualities, strong values in respect, communication skills and most importantly a strong sense of self-esteem. We will do everything in our power to ensure that we support you in every way possible to realize your dreams.”
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