African First Ladies Summit: The link between HIV and AIDS and cervical cancer
I was privileged to be at a summit of African First Ladies that was organised by the George W. Bush Institute in Dar es Salaam on 2-3 July. The theme of the event was "Investing in Women; Strengthening Africa".
The meeting was attended by high profile people such as the First Lady of the USA, Michelle Obama, Former First Lady Laura Bush, the President of the United Republic of Tanzania, His Excellency Jakaya Kikwete and Former US President, George W. Bush.
The First Lady of Tanzania, Mama Salma Kikwete was among seven African First Ladies from East, West and Southern Africa who were present, including the wife of the Vice President of Ghana. Also in attendance was Cherie Blair, wife of the Former British Prime Minister, Tony.
Solutions for improving women's access to healthcare
The meeting was organised to focus on effective and innovative solutions for improving women's access to healthcare, education and economic opportunities across Africa. It highlighted success stories and best practice, as well as the First Ladies' roles as advocates and leaders. There were also discussions on public-private partnerships and action points to ensure concrete results for women in Africa.
The meeting looked at the role of women in building families and societies despite barriers to education and limited access to land and credit. First Ladies Michelle Obama and Laura Bush shared very inspiring stories and encouraging messages.
Zambia's First Lady, Christine Kaseba highlighted her work as an obstetrician, gynaecologist and patron of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon. Sierra Leone's First Lady, Sia Nyama Koroma highlighted her initiatives that combine education and economic empowerment strategies to improve women's lives.
Link between HIV and AIDS and cervical cancer
My major take from this summit is the strong link between HIV and AIDS and cervical cancer which places higher risk on women living with HIV. Statements that a woman whose life was saved from HIV should not die from preventable cervical cancer were made several times.
Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS said: ‘'We should deal with cervical cancer through a people-centred approach. Make testing possible for a woman as she is likely to die from cervical cancer even when we have saved her life from HIV." It was also mentioned that in Zambia, 37% of the women dying from breast cancer are women of reproductive age. But how much do we know about the prevalence of cervical cancer among older women?
The infrastructure built for HIV and AIDS is being used to address the growing threat of cancer – breast and cervical. It is therefore important that, as advocates of older people, we at HelpAge International join the campaign to ensure women who are ageing with HIV receive appropriate cancer treatment. This could ensure the gains made from prolonging life through antiretroviral drugs are not eroded by cancer.
Advocates for women and girls
I witnessed first-hand how a first lady can leverage their position to make a difference. First Ladies can play a critical role as advocates for women and girls. They can serve as effective advocates for pressing issues in their countries particularly related to girls' education, women's health and economic opportunities.
At the conclusion of the summit, various commitments to ensure the continuum of care from prevention to treatment were announced. These include:
- The United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) pledge of 30 million US dollars for 11 sub-Saharan African countries in the next three years.
- A UNAIDS fund of 100,000 US dollars to mobilise HIV positive women in three countries to join in the programme.
- Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation through "Secure the Future" programme pledge of 1.2 million US dollars for Tanzania to support community-based activities to make sure no woman saved from HIV and AIDS dies of cervical cancer.
- Through the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Alliance, Tanzania will be the third country to benefit from 3 million US dollars of support for detecting and treating cervical cancer (after Botswana and Zambia).
- World Vision launched its "Strong Women, Strong World" campaign, which over a five-year period aims to raise 35 million US dollars for projects in 14 African countries. These will address maternal and child health, water, sanitation and hygiene, education and leadership development, entrepreneurship and education and advocacy justice.
As the summit's introductory note mentions, a woman's inclusion in the economy impacts the success of her family and the prosperity of her country. Let's ensure the unsung heroes that are older women, who are the pillars of HIV and AIDS care and support are included and their voices are heard.
Read more about our work on HIV and AIDS.
Watch our animation on how HIV and AIDS affects older women.