Kenya’s First Lady Adds Her Voice in the Fight for an AIDS-free Generation

By Chip Lyons | July 22, 2013

EGPAF President and CEO Chip Lyons at a HIV clinic in Ndhiwa district in Kenya. During a visit to Kenya earlier this month, Lyons met with Kenyan First Lady Margaret Kenyatta.

EGPAF

On a trip to Kenya last week, I had the honor of meeting with Kenyan First Lady Margaret Kenyatta. Madame Kenyatta had just returned from the 12th annual Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) Extraordinary General Assembly meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where she spoke eloquently on the fight to end the global AIDS epidemic and to fulfill the Millennium Development Goals.

At the OAFLA meeting, First Lady Kenyatta spoke of the challenges Kenya faces in the battle to eliminate HIV. These challenges mirror those of other countries on the African continent, as HIV continues to claim the lives of thousands of mothers and children. Madame Kenyatta told the group that in Kenya, 20 percent of maternal deaths and 15 percent of deaths in children younger than the age of five are caused by HIV. But Kenya has also been the site of considerable success, she added, with 92 percent of women enrolled in antenatal care being tested for HIV and 81 percent of pregnant women living with HIV receiving the services they need to prevent the transmission of HIV to their babies – up from less than 50 percent in 2006. Madame Kenyatta also said that reducing stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV, a key obstacle to getting more people tested and treated, was a key priority. With continued commitment, the end of AIDS in Kenya is not just possible, it’s highly likely. As First Lady Kenyatta told the assembly, “I strongly believe that with political will, resources, and sustained community empowerment efforts, we can reach our millennium development goals.”

During our meeting, First Lady Kenyatta emphasized her pledge to focus on the needs of women and children living with HIV. She said that the Kenyan government was making new investments in the fight to eliminate HIV, noting new government initiatives that offer free maternal and child health (MCH) services to all Kenyans and mentor mother programs to promote breast-feeding among women living with HIV.  She also praised EGPAF’s efforts in Kenya – since setting up offices in 2000, EGPAF has provided 1.2 million pregnant women with prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) services and enrolled more than a quarter of a million people in HIV care and treatment programs.

My meeting with First Lady Kenyatta reminded me of something Elizabeth Glaser once said: “People say they care, but actions are what save lives.”  In Kenya, First Lady Kenyatta and the Government of Kenya are taking steps to protect mothers and children from HIV and provide support to thousands of men, women, and children who are living with the virus. Their actions are creating real, concrete change.

Our actions will determine whether or not we can eliminate HIV and create a generation free of AIDS in our lifetime. Let’s continue the fight, together.

To learn more about our programs in Kenya, click here.