The First Lady, Mrs Jeannette Kagame, has called for intensified efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS in order to eliminate new infections.
Mrs Kagame spoke yesterday during the second day of the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) General Assembly on the sidelines of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“Although we are making significant strides against HIV/ AIDS, we cannot relent until we reach zero infections. Among the most vulnerable populations are women and children, exposed to violence and abuse, and unable to protect themselves against infection,” she said.
She also highlighted the danger gender based violence (GBV) poses, citing it as a major cause of violations, crime, besides being a threat to development globally.
“But we need not be discouraged, because with the right focus and concerted partnerships, we can make the world safer for women and girls, and ensure violence is no longer a barrier to full participation in our continent’s pursuit of progress and prosperity,” she said.
While sharing Rwanda’s experience, Mrs Kagame said that despite experiencing the worst form of violence against women and girls during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the country has made giant strides in restoring the social fabric.
“Twenty years ago, Rwanda experienced the worst forms of violence, during the Genocide against the Tutsi, including the systematic rape of women and girls, as weapon of war. Today, peace and security form a solid foundation for continued development, and Rwanda’s social fabric has, for the most part, been restored. However, we continue to deal with the consequences of that legacy,” she said.
She however added that purposeful political will that followed after, saw the country establish a strong policy, legal and institutional framework, as well as a set of measures to prevent and eradicate gender -based violence.
She also shared the experience of Isange One Stop Center, a local specialized free-of-charge referral center where survivors of GBV can find comprehensive services such as: medical care; psychosocial and legal support.
‘Once a victim or survivor is received at Isange, they benefit from free emergency contraception, HIV prophylaxis, STI prevention, and other medications, as preparations for the case investigation begin,” she noted.
Mrs Kagame revealed that efforts are underway to roll out the model in health facilities across the country.
“Currently, there are 12 centers in district hospitals. By the end of this year, we expect to have a total of 29 centers to cover all districts, followed by further decentralization of the service to the community.”
She also lauded the commitment of stakeholders in the Isange model, which saw it become a regional learning center, earning a United Nations Public Service Award, for gender responsive service delivery in 2012.
The First Lady also pointed out that a similar multi-sectoral approach has been used to eliminate child marriages, citing the law that put the minimum age for marriage for both boys and girls at 21.
Following the open session of the general assembly, a working lunch took place during which the first lady emphasized the need to scale up the fight against polio.
“The only way to achieve a polio-free Africa is to prevent infection – relentlessly – by immunizing every child, until transmission stops,” she shared.
Mrs. Kagame added that Rwanda has worked with the World Health Assembly’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative, since 1988, and maintains routine immunization coverage which now stands at 97 percent. As a result, there have been no confirmed cases of polio for more than 20 years, and Rwanda was certified free from wild polio in 2004.
“As first ladies and mothers, we have the responsibility to act without hesitation to make polio-free Africa a reality.”
OAFLA was established by African first ladies as a collective voice for vulnerable people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.