The First Lady and President of the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV and AIDS (OAFLA), Mrs Lordina Mahama, has emphasised the need for African countries to prioritise resources to support efforts to end paediatric AIDS and improve adolescent sexual reproductive health and rights.
She also called for improvement in the capacity of relevant stakeholders to make this vision a reality.
Opening the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of OAFLA at the margins of the 26th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Mrs Mahama charged the First Ladies, their partners and stakeholders to lead the way.
The meeting was on the theme: “Advancing sustainable partnerships to end paediatric AIDS and improve adolescent sexual reproductive health and rights.”
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She said the journey to end paediatric AIDS and improve adolescent sexual reproductive health and rights posed fierce challenges including the lack of resources, inadequate capacity, poor commodity security and some unfavourable laws and policies.
Mrs Mahama further urged her fellow First Ladies to intensify their advocacy efforts in those areas so that more countries would begin to develop the needed plans and programmes and look for the needed resources for implementation.
The OAFLA President indicated that while many of the member states had made great strides in the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT), less progress had been made in scaling up HIV diagnosis, care, support and treatment among children.
She said there was no targeted care for HIV positive children as they transited into adolescence and AIDS had become the leading cause of death among adolescents aged between 10 and 19 in Africa.
According to the First Lady, although AIDS-related deaths were declining in all age groups, except between 10 and 19 year olds, new HIV infections among adolescents were not declining as quickly as among other age groups.
“ Adolescent girls, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, are the most affected,” she observed.
She said OAFLA had learnt over the 15-year period of the Millennium Development Goals, with HIV being the trailblazer, just how much progress could be achieved through a united effort.
“We can make a difference, we can overcome these hurdles if we work in a concerted and united way. OAFLA’s mission of advocating effective policies and strategies towards the elimination of HIV and AIDS, reduction of maternal and child mortality and the empowerment of women and adolescents are underpinned by the timeless principles of partnership and solidarity”, she said.
She hoped that the year 2016 would see the achievement of major milestones in the collective endeavour to secure the future of Africa, improve maternal and child health on the continent and work towards ending the AIDS epidemic.
The Executive Director of UNAIDS, Mr Michel Sidibe, commended the African First Ladies for their advocacy role which had helped to reduce HIV in their respective countries.
“You have worked very hard to speak for the voiceless and very soon no one child in Africa will be born with HIV, thanks to all of you”, she said.
For his part, the Director-General of the International Plan Parenthood Federation (IPPF), Mr Tewodros Melesse, commended OAFLA for standing up strongly against the injustices suffered by women on the continent.
He said the role of the First Ladies in championing issues of adolescents and their sexual reproductive health gave hope for a better future for Africa.
The Commissioner of Social Affairs of the African Union Commission (AUC), Dr Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, said since the involvement of the First Ladies, progress had been made and commended OAFLA for their contribution to the AU.
Earlier in a welcome address, the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia, Mrs Roman Tesfaye, commended her colleague First Ladies for their hard work and dedication which had led to the reduction of HIV and AIDS in Africa.