Insights from ICASA: “Let’s Not Let these Challenges Define Us”
On Dec. 7, 2013, during the opening day events of ICASA , the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) and its Ambassador Florence Ngobeni-Allen participated in The Double Dividend: The story of HIV exposed children and imposing child survival meeting.
Hosted by the Republic of South Africa and co-convened by EGPAF, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO), and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the meeting objective was to introduce an action framework that will address the gaps in child and adolescent treatment of HIV. Several ministers of health were in attendance, including those from Lesotho, Uganda, Swaziland, Malawi, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. Also in attendance was guest of honor, Dr. Speciosa Wandira-Kazibwe, United Nations Secretary General Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.
After remarks from each of the co-convenors, including EGPAF President and CEO Chip Lyons, Florence was invited to share her personal experiences and to convey the importance of HIV services for mothers and children and accessible integrated child health services.
“I became involved in our shared fight to eliminate pediatric AIDS 16 years ago, when I lost my first child – my daughter Nomthunzi – to the disease. I was a young mother and wife when I learned that she, my husband, and I were all living with HIV. I was devastated,” she said. “At the time, there was little a mother could do to save her child from AIDS. I knew that, but little more about the disease. Losing a child to AIDS is without a doubt the worst thing a mother can go through. One moment you’re a family. The next, you’re alone – fighting stigma, discrimination, and a sadness I wouldn’t have thought possible.”
Florence continued her remarks with a challenge to the group -- “Let’s not let the challenges we have faced working in this issue define us.”
She continued, “Today, there are 1.5 million HIV-positive pregnant women worldwide. All of their children need to be tested. Many of those mothers will get good news, and their children will be happy and healthy. But some of those mothers will receive news that their children are born HIV-positive. These children must receive appropriate care and treatment as well. It really is an urgent issue of child survival. Every part of the maternal and child health system needs to commit to identify children who are at risk or HIV exposed.”
Following Florence’s remarks, there was a panel discussion with the ministers of health, moderated by prominent health journalist, Mercedes Sayagues and additional comments from representatives from U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR ) and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund).
Stay tuned to the EGPAF blog to get the latest news and updates from the conference. And click here to view a list of presentations by EGPAF staff.
Jill Davis is the director of brand management and interactive communication.
Insights from ICASA is a blog series featuring the stories and thoughts of EGPAF experts and staff participating in and attending the 17th International Conference on STIs in Africa.