UN: 'Empowering women, girls key to ending AIDS epidemic'

New York, US (PANA) - Delegates to the 69th session of the World Health Assembly, taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, have urged countries to end gender inequity in the response to HIV by putting women and adolescent girls on the Fast-Track to ending the AIDS epidemic.

UN statement on Tuesday said Ms. Lorena Castillo de Varela, Panama's First Lady and Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Special Ambassador in Latin America, stressed the importance of women assuming leadership roles to ensure the development of programmes and policies fitting to their needs.

"Limited access to health care and education, coupled with systems and policies that do not address the needs of young people, are obstacles that block adolescent girls and young women from being able to protect themselves against HIV, particularly as they transition into adulthood," she said.

Ms. Castillo de Varela stated: "To reduce HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths, we must advance gender equality, women’s empowerment and autonomy to ensure that girls and young women make independent decisions about their own health and are able to live free from all forms of violence."

UNAIDS Executive Director, Mr. Michel Sidibe, said: "It is an injustice that women and girls are prevented from reaching information and services that could keep them free from HIV and give them access to treatment."

"If we are to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, the world must adopt a people-centred approach that enshrines the right of woman and girls to make informed decisions about their health and well-being, including their sexual health and rights," Mr. Sidibe stated.

On her part, WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, said: "This is an extremely important side event. It is all about ending the AIDS epidemic and working on a very important group – adolescents."

"If we neglect this age group, we will not be able to achieve our objective of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030, and also on the elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV. This will be decisive to ending AIDS," she said.

Also, HIV activist, Ms. Angelina Namiba, said that "we need a combined, holistic approach and interventions that support adolescent girls and women."

Ms. Namiba said: "It is crucial that women living with HIV are meaningfully involved at all stages of these interventions right from design to delivery."

Cote d' Ivoire's Minister of Health, Mr. Raymonde Goudou Coffie, said: "As long as men refuse to not join women in the process, we will not reach our goals of zero new HIV infections."

"We are determined to end HIV/AIDS and this is why in our last annual meeting on AIDS, the President of Cote d'Ivoire decided to increase funding for the HIV response in a very substantial way," he said.

Mr. Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Health in South Africa, said: "Before we implemented the prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme we had 70,000 infections in infants, but this has reduced to less than 7,000."

He noted that, "despite this decrease the work is still incomplete, we must get as close to zero infections as possible and we are working hard to achieve this."

The statement said that the high-level side event focused on three topics, the elimination of new HIV infections among children, HIV prevention in adolescent girls and young women and access to HIV treatment for all.

It said the engagement and empowerment of women as leaders, policy makers, implementers and peer supporters combined with increased access to effective HIV treatment and prevention has proved essential in the success of global efforts to eliminate new HIV infections among children.

It added that the initiatives have decreased by more than half, from 520,000 a year in 2000 to 220,000 in 2014., and the comprehensive and inclusive approach now has to be widened to include all people living with HIV, including young women and girls.

UNAIDS said that, globally, AIDS remains the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age. In 2014, there were around 220 000 new HIV infections worldwide among adolescents (aged 15 to 19 years), with adolescent girls accounting for 62 per cent of new HIV infections among this age group.

It also said that, in 2014, AIDS was the leading cause of death in adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa.

It noted that gender-based violence, gender inequity, harmful gender norms, stigma and discrimination often prevent women and girls from knowing their HIV status and accessing appropriate HIV prevention and treatment services.

UNAIDS disclosed that, it is estimated that of 670 000 adolescent girls, aged 15 to 19 and living with HIV, only one in five knows she is HIV-positive.

The UNAIDS Fast-Track approach focuses on ensuring that at least 90 per cent of adolescents and young women and men (as well as other groups at higher risk of HIV infection) have access to combination HIV prevention and sexual and reproductive health and rights services.

It also stressed the need to empower them with the skills, knowledge and capability to protect themselves from HIV by 2020.

The World Health Organization’s global health sector strategy on HIV, 2016-2021, being discussed at this week’s World Health Assembly reiterates UNAIDS’ 90–90–90 treatment target.

This will require that 90 per cent of people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90 per cent of people who know their HIV-positive status are accessing anti-retroviral treatment and 90 per cent of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads.

To achieve this, innovative models of service delivery will be critical to ensuring that adolescents and young people are diagnosed early, rapidly linked to treatment services, helped to adhere to treatment and retained in care to make sure they stay healthy.

These services must be accessible, affordable and sensitive to the needs of women and girls.

Other Fast-Track targets include achieving fewer than 500 000 new HIV infections a year by 2020 and reaching zero discrimination.

Switzerland and Zambia, who were among the sponsors of the event in Geneva, are co-facilitators of the UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS taking place on 8-10 June in New York.

As co-facilitators they will take forward the summary outcomes of the World Health Assembly side event to help inform discussions at the UN High-Level Meeting.
-0- PANA AA/VAO 24May2016

24 may 2016 15:58:07




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