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12 June 2016

First Lady calls for girls empowerment to prevent HIV

First Lady, Mrs Lordina MahamaThe First Lady, Mrs Lordina Mahama, says empowering girls to prevent HIV among adolescents is a key requirement to achieving an AIDS-free generation.

This is because adolescent girls and young women, aged 15 to 24 in Africa, are especially vulnerable to the epidemic that sadly continues to record new cases among adolescents.

Speaking at the Side Event of the UN High Level meeting on HIV and AIDS in New York, Mrs Mahama said every hour in Africa 26 adolescents, aged 10 to 19 years, were infected with HIV leading to an estimated 250,000 new HIV infections in Africa alone.

She said globally, while new HIV infections had declined by 38 per cent over the last 15 years, sadly new infections among adolescents were increasing.

“In high burden countries of sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls contribute a significant 30 per cent of all new HIV infections,” Mrs Mahama said.

The Side Event, which was attended by all African first ladies forming the Organisation of African First Ladies Association (OAFLA) and other development partners including UNAIDS, UNFPA, Gates Foundation, and adolescent representatives, was on the theme: “Breaking the Silos: Empowered Adolescent Girls at the Centre of the Response”.

Mrs Mahama said in spite of the challenges great progress had been made in achieving “our objective of universal services for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support”.

As the President of OAFLA, Mrs Mahama welcomed the delegates to the meeting explaining that OAFLA advocates for effective strategies towards the elimination of HIV and AIDS, the reduction of maternal and child mortality, and the empowerment of women and children.

She said in all its activities, adolescent girls were at the heart of OAFLA’s mission, because a more alarming statistic showed that adolescent girls and young women had up to eight times more infection and were likely to become HIV positive about five years earlier than their male peers.

“Very sadly only 15 percent of young women and adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa know their HIV status,” she said.

Overall, AIDS-related illnesses are the leading cause of deaths among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa and the second leading cause of death globally.

“Clearly, Africa’s adolescents are seriously affected by this epidemic; and our adolescent girls and young women are very vulnerable to HIV infection and AIDS related deaths.

“Although this vulnerability is not fully understood it is driven by lack of empowerment and compounded by other structural, social and biological factors including harmful gender norms such as early and forced marriage with its effects and engagement in age-disparate sex and oftentimes forced transactional sexual relationships,” she said.

Other factors are gender based violence, increased genital inflammation, inability to negotiate monogamous relationships, condom use, and/or male circumcision, inability to take decisions on matters of their own health and well-being as well as inadequate access to comprehensive sexual education and reproductive health services.

“There is also the experience of food insecurity and poverty; and we have a vicious cycle driven by dependence.

“It is against this background that OAFLA has placed importance on adolescents, in its current strategic plan, 2014 to 2018,” Mrs Mahama said.

That strategic plan would help in advocacy for the adoption of policies that promote services for adolescents to raise awareness and mobilise resources in support of programmes on adolescent reproductive health needs.

Mrs Mahama, therefore, urged her fellow first ladies to make conscious efforts and commitment to address adolescent needs, especially for girls, saying the SDGs have provided a clear framework for adolescent girls across sectors like education, health, gender equality, reducing inequalities, and partnership.

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