African First Ladies call for more political power to check HIV/AIDS
Ethiopia’s First Lady Azeb Mesfin called for greater political power for women to prop their influence in the war against the triple threat of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis on the continent.
In her inaugural address as the newly-elected president of the Organisation of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), Mesfin said here that marginalisation of women in mainstream politics denied them the clout they needed to influence important decisions on social and economic development of African women.
“Women must have access to power. If we want to win the war against the poverty, we must empower them also to fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” she said.
The Ethiopian first Lady takes over from Mrs Maureen Mwanawasa, wife of the late former Zambia President Levy Mwanawasa, who collapsed during the last African Union’s summit in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, and died in a French hospital two months later.
“African women must be free to make choices to reduce HIV/AIDS. We deserve to be in a world free of violence, where safety is real and where opportunities are boundless,” she said, in reference to rising incidence of sexual violence against women, including rape.
At a time when global economy is in recession, she said, the role of the African First Ladies had become more critical in championing the rights and privileges of their gender.
“OAFLA’s role becomes more urgent in the face of global recession because women are the most vulnerable segment of society. OAFLA therefore wants to play a greater role in the fight against HIV/AIDS inn Africa,” she said.
The conference was also addressed by Dr Meskerem Gunitzy Bekele, UNAIDS Ethiopia country director.
Dr Meskerem painted a gloomy outlook of the pandemic’s spread on the continent, saying 60 per cent of the infected and affected are women and children.
Although the epi-centre of the disease is sub-Saharan Africa, she put the number of patients who had access to anti-retroviral drugs at two million, calling the number ‘paltry’ considering that Africa’s population of people living with HIV is about 40 million.
“As high profile advocates, OAFLA must contribute to effective response to the pandemic,” she said.