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Organisation for African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS meet on side lines of the UN General Assembly

29 September 2015

The 70th United Nations General Assembly in New York City opened with a strong call from a number of African states for the reform of the United Nations Security Council. During his speech to the General Assembly, President Jacob Zuma commended the UN on the good progress made on human rights, rule of law, governance and gender quality but stated that it was “unacceptable” that no African state has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. “Currently one billion people remain excluded from the UN Security Council. The UN cannot pretend that the world has not changed since 1945. We are not colonised. We are free sovereign states,” he added.
 
Madame Tobeka Zuma, First Lady of South Africa, was in attendance at the UN General Assembly during the President’s speech. She is currently in New York to continue to advocate on a global stage for issues close to her heart: women’s health, particularly breast and cervical cancer and HIV.

 

Photo: (l-r) Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, First Lady of Gabon; Grace Mugabe, First Lady of Zimbabwe and Tobeka Zuma, First Lady of South Africa
 
On the side lines of the opening of the UN General Assembly, the First Lady of South Africa was represented at the high-level meeting of the Organisation of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), which focused on women and adolescent health in the post-2015 era. Young women and adolescent girls in South Africa face multiple epidemics of teenage pregnancy, HIV infection and violence, including sexual violence and rape.
 
In 2013, 99 000 school girls fell pregnancy, a sharp increase from 87 000 the previous year and 68 000 in 2011. One in four new HIV infections in South Africa is among young women and adolescent girls aged 15 to 24. Violence against women and girls remains at endemic proportions, with research suggesting that one in four men admit to some form of violence against women, and half perpetuated before the age of 20. During the meeting, African First Ladies agreed that young women and adolescent girls are being left behind by the AIDS response across Africa.
 
Through forums such as OAFLA and the Tobeka Madiba Zuma Foundation, Zuma has been raising awareness on these issues for some time. She recently partnered with Sanofi, a leading pharmaceutical company to support the construction of an HIV and TB clinic in Manxili, a rural community in KwaZulu-Natal Province. With a new primary health care facility built on the same site, this comes close to government’s vision of an “ideal” clinic. It is through this work that Zuma shows where her focus lies: integration of policy, programme and health services for HIV, TB and sexual and reproductive health.
 
“If we fail to achieve integration of our health services, we will not succeed in ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030”, said Zuma. “Health services need to treat a woman as a whole human being, with a range of health needs. We need flexible, innovative and targeted interventions for young people that speak to them in a language they understand.”
 
One such programme is the B-Wise mobile platform, recently launched by the Department of Health. It gives young people access to information on a range of information on HIV and sexual and reproductive health, and includes live chats with health professionals who have been trained to work specifically with adolescents.
 
“We have collectively failed the African First Ladies by not listening to them all these years to treat women as a person and not a disease,” said Mark Dybul, head of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. “We pledge to continue to support you in advocating for a holistic approach for women’s health.”

Special Correspondent

Photo: Presidency/G. Smit

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