THE Mashonaland East chapter of the Zimbabwe National Network of People living with HIV (ZNNP+) has come out in full support of the Free to Shine Campaign by First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa which seeks to eliminate mother-to-child transmission and ultimately end Aids by 2030.
The Free to Shine Campaign is an HIV and AIDS programme which was launched by the First Lady in 2018 as a follow-up to the commitment made by African First Ladies and the African Union (AU).
Amai Mnangagwa is the country’s health ambassador and Vice President of the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD).
Speaking at a recent campaign initiated by the First Lady in Chinamhora on Friday last week, ZNNP+ advocacy chair Mrs Blessing Mhone expressed solidarity with the Free to Shine Campaign which seeks to reinforce commitment of African nations to end childhood HIV/Aids and keep mothers healthy.
She said the organisation felt honoured to have the First Lady spearheading such a campaign at grassroots level.
“It is a known fact that we cannot prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV if we do not address the structural barriers that prevent women from protecting their health. The HIV virus is gender blind, but it can capitalise on our patriarchal and gender biases and as a nation we can do better to ensure that women and girls are less likely to contract HIV. We applaud your efforts Amai and continuous commitment to the cause of preventing the transmission of HIV from mother-to-child.”
Mrs Mhone said people living with HIV were key to ending mother-to-child transmission and appealed to all stakeholders to continue applying client-centre approaches.
“We are honoured to have our First Lady, our mother, spearheading such a campaign at grassroot level. It is only then that we can be sure of eliminating mother-to-child transmission and ultimately ending AIDS by 2030,” she said.
National Aids Council (NAC) chief executive Dr Bernard Madzima who was represented by Mrs Madeline Dube said his organisation was happy to be supporting the work of the First Lady in addressing HIV and promoting health and development in Zimbabwe.
He said NAC, being the coordinator of the national response to HIV and Aids, seeing the spirited vision that the First Lady had, readily pledged technical and material support towards the cause.
“Every year, 150 000 are newly-infected with HIV globally. Looking at our situation in Zimbabwe, we have a lot of work to do. HIV prevalence is higher among women (15,1 percent) than among men (10,1 percent) hence the prioritisation of women in the response to HIV is informed by research and is quite key.”
Dr Madzima said eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV would ensure an HIV free generation. The Free to Shine Campaign, he said, was very much in sync with the NAC’s programmes.
“Our programmes at all levels of the organisation resonate well with the key outcomes of the campaign that we are gathered here for.
“All the work that Amai has been doing and is planning to do is aimed at advancing the empowerment of women and girls, championing the rights and welfare of women, children, the elderly and the marginalised communities and raising awareness in critical issues in HIV, health and development. All this is worthy of our support,” he said.
Dr Madzima said the Free to Shine Campaign had three clear goals to reduce new HIV infections among women in their reproductive years, prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and to ensure that children born with HIV get treatment.
He said NAC had in place a package consisting of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, HIV testing and counselling (HTC) and social protection interventions using a gender responsive youth focused approach.
UNAids representative Mrs Sophia Mukasa Monaco said the Global Aids report warned that there was no progress on targets towards eliminating mother to child transmission despite gains in the early days of the response.
“Note that most countries in the region have missed the bold target of eliminating new HIV infections among children and children are dying needlessly from Aids-related illnesses and in fact the numbers are reversing.
“In Zimbabwe, the number of mother to child transmission has increased from 6,7 percent in 2017 and is now at 8 percent at the end of 2019.
“In Zimbabwe one of the main causes of vertical transmission are women who start antiretroviral treatment, but fall out of care during breastfeeding and women are being infected with HIV during breastfeeding and pregnancy.
“Over 90 percent of pregnant women living with HIV received treatment in 2019, but despite this high coverage, children are still becoming infected due to women falling out of care and pregnant and breastfeeding women becoming newly infected with HIV.”
She applauded Amai Mnangagwa for her hands-on approach and great show of commitment to women and girls’ issues and for championing the elimination of HIV transmission.