First Lady launches 2 life-saving programmes

WITH the aim of accelerating efforts to close the gender gap and create an HIV-free generation, First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa launched the Global Alliance to End Aids in Children by 2030 and the “We Are Equal” in Chiweshe, Mashonaland Central province, at a colourful event which attracted thousands of people.

The launch of the two programmes signals the beginning of events leading up to the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA), which is slated for Victoria Falls next month.

The event was attended by members of the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD), United Nations agencies, the Ministry of Health and Child Care officials and other development partners.

A continental initiative by OAFLAD, the hashtag “We are Equal Campaign” is aimed at addressing gender inequality in Africa in the sectors of health, education and economic empowerment.

Dr Mnangagwa, who is the country’s health ambassador, also held an interactive session with the local community where she stressed the need to treat children equally, fight drug abuse, end domestic violence, child marriages and to promote regular health checks especially in pregnant women and lactating mothers.

Addressing scores of people who gathered at Maria Theresa Clinic, Amai Mnangagwa highlighted that there was urgent need to act and combat gender inequality between men and women to achieve sustainable development.

“I greet you all and I wish to thank of you for gracing this occasion. I stand before you to address a very important and life-saving issue; preventing the spread of HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B from parents to their precious children and ensuring that we leave no stone unturned in our efforts to end AIDS in children by 2030.

“As the mother of the nation, I recognise the importance of information and knowledge. Information is power. It is important that everyone in the community, especially our pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and their male partners, know about these three diseases, HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B. You deserve to know these diseases, which are sexually transmitted.

“As a mother, I urge those who are married to be faithful to one another and not to cheat because this brings health challenges in the home. Vana baba you must love us just as was the case in the beginning and what are you looking for elsewhere outside your home? Isuwo madzimai ko kugeza kwedu kwehumhandara takaisepi, ngatisaitei hunhu hunodzinga ana baba mumba (as mothers, we should maintain personal hygiene so that our husbands do not end up cheating on us),” she said.

First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa hands over baby kits and blankets to a mother of twins during the launch of “We Are Equal” campaign while Organisation of African First Ladies for Development Executive Secretary Dr Nardos Berhanu and members of the United Nations family look on in Chiweshe

HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B, the First Lady said, could be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby while HIV may be passed to the baby at the time of delivery and during breastfeeding.

“This does not have to happen as all these infections can be prevented from getting to the baby. It means all pregnant women need to be tested for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B. The Ministry of Health is encouraging those who are expecting to get tested as couples. Let’s protect our families,” she said.

“Through a comprehensive approach the Elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission (EMTCT) programme, the First Lady said, people can reduce the risk of HIV to the baby greatly by preventing HIV infection among women of childbearing age, preventing unplanned pregnancies among women living with HIV, providing antiretroviral therapy (ART) for pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV, providing care, support, and treatment for women living with HIV, their partners and their families. Let us therefore all go out and be tested,” she said.

Arts ensemble, Iyasa showcased a play about a husband who beat his expecting wife and another man who took his pills secretly without telling their spouses of their status.

Dr Mnangagwa discouraged such behaviour.

“Let us hold hands with our health experts, and work with communities, including women living with HIV and other stakeholders and development partners. We need to put the wellbeing of our children first.

“Through this united front, we want to create a world where every child can grow up free from HIV and AIDS. Let us raise awareness on the need for each and every one of us to know our HIV status. And to practice safer intimate relationships,” she said.

The mother of the nation sought to know how people were living in the homes, with a view to providing solutions to some of the challenges they face.

Members of Iyasa drama and dance group display a banner during the launch of the Global Alliance to end AIDS in children by 2030 by Health and Childcare Ambassador First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa in Chiweshe

In response, a woman decried that men often did not want to use condoms yet they were promiscuous.

“Once you see a condom being used in the home, one of the partners will be misbehaving and it is a way of prevention, but men do not want this,” said one of the participants.

A man, however, differed with the assertion.

“The law says once we are married we are one, so why should we use protection when we are one. As a couple we must be faithful,” he said.

Another female contributor weighed in saying: “Men are naughty. They have extra-marital affairs but when they come home they say they can’t take a sweet in the paper, so how do we stop the spread of Aids?”

The First Lady counselled couples to be faithful to stop the spread of Aids.

“I need to emphasise the importance of continuing this antiretroviral treatment throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding so that mothers remain healthy. I encourage all mothers to safely breastfeed their children, giving only breastmilk in the first six months and after that, other nutritious foods from the age of six months and up.

“Breastmilk should then be continued up to 24 months and beyond. This is a cause that is very dear to my heart. I encourage us all to come together as a community, as advocates, as policymakers and as individuals to support our efforts to end AIDS in children by 2030,” she said.

The mother of the nation hammered on the need for families and communities to treat girls and boys as equals.

“As First Ladies of Africa we are saying #We Are Equal because we are seeing a gap between men and women. Closing the gender gap in Africa is really not doing women and girls a favour, it is about doing the right thing. We know that as human beings created by our Creator, we are equal before Him. And yet even to this day, girls and boys, grow up seeing otherwise, hearing otherwise and learning to believe otherwise.

“Indeed, how can women believe they are equal when their right to health care, education, economic opportunities, and freedom from violence are not always treated the same as that of men. In most cases women are beaten in the home. But what do you mean nhai vana baba when you beat up an expecting woman. Kurova mudzimai wenyu chinhu chisina kunaka.”

Organisation of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD) Executive Secretary Dr Nardos Berhanu hands over hampers to women during the launch of “We are Equal” and Global Alliance to end AIDS in Children by First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa in Chiweshe

As First Ladies, Dr Mnangagwa said, they were saying women were the mothers of nations, and deserved to be prioritised.

“Women help men to protect their homes and families, so let us respect them. We need male champions for positive masculinity in our beloved country Zimbabwe. People that we can count on to influence other men to advance the cause of women. I am asking for role models among all you men who are here to support me in implementing the #We Are Equal campaign,” she said.

Dr Mnangagwa sought to know how men would contribute to the campaign on equality.

“We shall live peacefully with our wives as we work together for the good of our children,” a contributor said while the other said women ought to respect men.

“Women should learn to respect us as heads of houses then we will also respect them. But women in the homes nowadays behave like cocks. Vanotozviita ivo machongwe mumba macho. Zvino hakuna musha une machongwe maviri,” he said.

“We see inequality in education where girls lag behind boys in rates of completion of primary and secondary education. And without education, it is challenging to get ahead in life. The girl child also needs to be educated,” Dr Mnangagwa said.

Asked which child was important between a boy and a girl, some parents said a boy while some said both boy child and girl child.

The First Lady spoke candidly against child marriages.

“We abhor those who marry off their daughters at tender ages or deny the girl child her right to education. Treat your children equally. I am greatly concerned about teenage pregnancies which is sitting at 22 percent. Child marriages are on the rise. This is sexual exploitation of our girls and we must do all in our power to reverse this trend. As we speak, someone has just married off an underage girl child. Between men and women, who is doing this, marrying off their children?”

In response men and women traded accusations.

United Nations resident coordinator Mr Edward Kallon hands over hampers to women while First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa, Health and Childcare Minister Dr Douglas Mombeshora and members of UN family look on in Chiweshe

Others said the children were rushing into sexual relationships while as young as in Grade Seven.

Some blamed social media saying it was exposing children to sexual activities.

“Gender based violence is a scourge ravaging the world, our continent and Zimbabwe is not spared. Gender-based violence is recognised as one of the most serious forms of human rights violation. It is a public health challenge, and there are many reasons for it. Some of these have to do with our culture and our norms as a people. I urge us all to look after our girls and our women and to stop gender-based violence. And for those victims of gender-based violence, let us provide them with support, counselling and access to legal resources,” she said.

The First Lady asked women whether they reported the cases when abused in the home and in response most women said they were not reporting to the police and were suffering in silence.

“Another factor that contributes to domestic violence is drug abuse. We say no to drug and substance abuse, we say no to beating women or girls,” she said.

‘’Let us work together to dismantle the barriers that hold women and girls back so we can build a future that enables all Zimbabweans to thrive.’’

Now more than ever, we need urgent action to advance gender equity in our country.

Girls and women are drivers of sustainable development, and we will achieve positive and lasting change if everyone is involved.

“We will witness reduction in mortality for women and children, increased momentum towards gender equality, and female education and economic empowerment,” she said.

UN Resident Coordinator Mr Edward Matthew Kallon praised the First Lady for her efforts as the region is recommitting to end paediatric HIV infections by 2030 under the Global Alliance to end AIDS in Children and Adolescents and at the same time launch the #We Are Equal Campaign on closing the gender gaps.

“I would like to congratulate you on the launch of #We Are Equal Campaign especially since gender inequality is one of the key drivers of new HIV infections amongst adolescent girls and young women. We have known for a long time how gender inequality negatively impacts our work on ending AIDS especially in adolescent girls and young women, such that the two campaigns are reinforcing a strong message, that, for us to conquer the fight against AIDS, we must address the gender disparities that drive the HIV epidemic. Your Excellency, allow me to congratulate you for championing the prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) agenda under the just ended Free to Shine Campaign, from 2018-2022. The work that you championed contributed towards an increase in the number of pregnant women living with HIV accessing treatment,” he said.

He said to date 92,9 percent of pregnant women were receiving ART (2022, SPECTRUM), and giving birth to HIV-free children.

This, Mr Kallon said, was in line with the goal of creating an HIV-free generation.

“As we have all witnessed today, some of those children that were born free of HIV are now active young women and men, contributing productively to the economy of the country. And as the UN, we are very proud to be part of this achievement. Ladies and Gentlemen, through the contribution that you made in championing the elimination of Mother to Child Transmission agenda, the country contained the impact of COVID-19 which hit the country just over a year after you launched the Free to Shine Campaign. We therefore saw mother to child transmission rate stagnate at 8. 1 per cent (SPECTRUM, 2022) against the target of no more than 5 per cent. We are looking upon your esteemed leadership for Zimbabwe to meet the below 5 per cent target, through your championing of the Global Alliance to end AIDS campaign,” he said.

The UN family under the Joint UN AIDS Programme, Mr Kallon said, has supported the domestication of the Global Alliance to end AIDS in Zimbabwe which resulted in an ambitious Zimbabwe Global Alliance Plan that is guiding implementation towards ending AIDS in children and adolescents.

“I am glad that as Zimbabwe, during the forthcoming ICASA high level meeting of African First Ladies on ending Mother to Child Transmission, we will be able to showcase some of the good progress and best practices that you are championing on ending Mother To Child Transmission. We also recognise the importance of having ending Mother To Child Transmission as an entry point for integrated services and promoting linkages between Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, HIV and Gender-Based- Violence linkages and integration. This should also be a focus area during health emergencies such as COVID-19 and cholera, amongst many. This way we can preserve the gains made over the past decades in the fight against AIDS and drawing lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic and other emergencies, the UN will prioritise humanitarian-development-peace nexus as we support the government of Zimbabwe,” he said.

The #We Are Equal Campaign was described as a great reminder to all stakeholders that if they do not address gender inequalities and inequities, the socio-economic development of the country would be hampered.

Gender inequality, the UN representative said, keeps girls and young women out of schools and universities, out of the workforce and leadership positions, limiting their agency and ability to make decisions about their health and sexual and reproductive lives. This heightens their vulnerability to violence, harmful practices, and preventable maternal death.

“Advancing gender equality is the best tool for building resilient societies. Women and girls’ potential is unlocked by empowering them to make choices about their bodies and their lives. Gender Based Violence however remains one key area that is threatening to undo the gains made for women and girls in the country.”

The Minister of Health and Child Care, Hon. Dr Douglas Mombeshora said his ministry was pleased with the First Lady’s initiatives in the health sector.

“We want to let you know that in Zimbabwe we have 1,3 million people who are living with HIV/Aids and among these people 5,5 percent are children. We have also made great strides in preventing HIV/Aids and we have reached 95-95-95 which means 95 percent now know their status, 95 percent are on treatment and 95 percent have achieved viral suppression in their bodies. What however, pains us is that among children, only 65 percent are on treatment and have not yet reached the 95 percent mark. Among the children, only 65 percent know their status and only 85 percent have reached viral suppression. We are still very far when looking at children and we wish they also reach the 95 percent level. There is a gap which I think we can close while working together. When looking at pregnant women who are living with HIV/Aids, only 88 percent are on treatment and we wish to reach the 95 percent level. Then on Mother to Child Transmission of HIV we wish to reach 25 percent and we are still very far,” he sais.

Mashonaland Central Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution Christopher Magomo said; “I feel honoured Your Excellency to be part of this initiative to end Aids in Children by the year 2030. I have no doubt in my mind that with your Office’s resolve, Your Excellency and vision for gender equity and improved access for women and children to preventive treatment services, this goal will be achieved. We are however alive to the huddles that lie on our path towards this achievement. Significant progress has been made in reducing gender-based violence in the province though women and girls remain the majority of victims. These gains need to be sustained,” he said.

Teenage pregnancies and child marriages, Minister Magomo noted, remain high especially in Mazowe and in Mt Darwin often leading to late pregnancy booking and compromising child birth outcomes, a trend which threatens the goal of ending Aids in Children by 2030.

The Minister commended the First Lady’s efforts in championing the initiative and making sure that the country was awake to the need to protect and safeguard the health needs of mothers and children.

The community thanked the First Lady for her sterling work and for donating to them.

Ms Letwin Bonyani said: “I am very glad for the teachings we have received from our mother. She has taught us that men should not beat their spouses in the home, children must not be married at tender ages and let us help one another as couples to work while living in peace. Let us not be selective on our children in the homes since a child is a child whether one is a boy or girl. They are supposed to have equal treatment,” she said.

Ms Auxillia Mudonhi was equally upbeat.

“We are happy with what our mother has done for us including the food hampers and baby preparation kits that she has given us .”

Amai Mnangagwa donated baby preparation kits including baby blankets to pregnant women and health food hampers to breastfeeding mothers.

Herald

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