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Source: Daily Observer
The First Lady of the Republic has reaffirmed that the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) remains committed to the global vision of getting to zero discrimination, zero new HIV infection and AIDS related diseases. She noted that their campaign to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies is at a particularly crucial moment.

Her Excellency Madam Zineb Yahya Jammeh was speaking Thursday while launching the Early Infant Diagnosis of HIV (EID/HIV) in The Gambia at the Jammeh Foundation for Peace Hospital (JFPH) in Bundung. Organised by her office, the initiative is under the auspices of the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS-Gambia Chapter (OAFLA-GAM).

The OAFLA was established in 2002 by 37 African First Ladies in Geneva, Switzerland, at a meeting facilitated by UNAIDS and the International AIDS Trust (IAT), as a collective voice for Africa's most vulnerable people, women and children infected and affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Its chapter was launched in The Gambia in April 2004, which was later followed by the launching of a campaign against mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Since then, OAFLA has transformed itself from a forum of ideas to an institution capable of providing the continent-wide leadership needed to bring about change in the lives of people. With its permanent secretariat in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, OAFLA has moved from addressing the symptoms of the HIV/ AIDS crisis to the root causes of poverty and the overall inequality of women in the region.

Madam Jammeh, who addressed a well-attended event including the vice president and Women's Affairs minister, said the work of African First ladies has been increasingly visible and has made real difference in the lives of those infected by HIV/AIDS. But that achievement, she noted, could not have been possible without the support of "our husband heads of state who continue to deliver on their promises".

She asserted that over the past years in The Gambia, access to the prevention of mother to child transmission services has been significantly improved. "In 2013, 50, 251 pregnant women were tested and received their post test HIV results. Out of the total, 773 were tested positive of which 729 were provided with prevention from mother to child treatment Antiretroviral (ARV) prophylaxis to prevent the transmission of HIV to their babies," she indicated.

First Lady Jammeh further pointed out that the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV remains high globally, saying women are at the very center of human life, of families and communities. She argued: "If they are robbed of their rights and dignity, we are losing the opportunity to tap half the potential of mankind to achieve the MDGs. We are here today to make a difference and to demonstrate to all that people living with HIV and AIDS are our brothers and sisters, husbands and wives."

She underscored that people living with HIV play important roles in life, saying her initiative always wants to share with them their joys and difficulties. "This is why my office joins efforts to launch this initiative," she concluded.

The Health and Social Welfare minister, Omar Sey at the occasion, said to meet the targets of zero discrimination, zero new HIV infection and AIDS related diseases requires the participation of everyone. He noted that from the very beginning, The Gambia has made significant progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, particularly in the last five years.

The Kanifing Municipality mayor, Yankuba Colley, the host of the occasion, disclosed that in the past decades, new HIV infections have declined by more than 25% worldwide with 56 countries seeing the epidemic stabilised or reversed.

Colley however cautioned that the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV remains particularly high in sub-Saharan Africa with about 76% of all HIV positive women living in the region. "It was reported that in 2009, 2.6 million people became newly infected with HIV/AIDS and 1.8 million died from AIDS related illnesses," he told the gathering.

Presenting an overview of the OAFLA-GAM, the deputy director of the National Aids Secretariat (NAS), Alpha Khan, said since the launching of the initiative in The Gambia, it has set-off several activities which included efforts to reduce stigma, advocate for the expansion of prevention and treatment strategies.

The strategic goals of OAFLA-GAM, he said, are to prevent the further spread of HIV/AIDS. "With sustained commitment and support from the First Lady; we will meet the targets of addressing mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS," he concluded.

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