The President of the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV and AIDS (OAFLA) and First Lady of Ghana, Mrs Lordina Mahama has stated that the continued focus on adolescent girls, is key to achieving many of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals.
She said adolescent girls face numerous challenges and vulnerabilities, yet until recently, they have hardly been the centre of discussions, at the global and national levels.
Addressing the High Level event on the sidelines of the 71st United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, Mrs Mahama said adolescents continue to experience, elevated HIV vulnerability, with the greatest risk of exposure.
The event attended by First Ladies from all over the world, development and donor partners, Ministers of State, Technical Advisers, Goodwill Ambassadors; representatives of civil Society Organisations and youth Ambassadors was under the theme: “Improving the Sexual and Reproductive Health of Adolescent Girls: The Role of First Ladies”.
She said globally, AIDS is the leading cause of death among women, and girls, of reproductive age 15 to 49, with about 14 million children orphaned due to AIDS.
Mrs Mahama said the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that one out of every six deaths in Africa was due to HIV; and 70 per cent of these are among adolescent girls.
She said OAFLA recognises that, many of its member countries, have large populations of young people and therefore, the year of focus, on this population group, has provided a much-needed boost.
The First Lady said in OAFLA’s work, it has strongly advocated effective policies, and strategies, towards the reduction of maternal and child mortality and the empowerment of women and children through the building, and sustaining strategic partnerships, at global, regional and community levels.
“Therefore, we have committed to help break down barriers, and with adolescent girls in the lead, we will put importance on their sexual, and reproductive health needs”, she said.
‘Today, we shall determine ways in which we must all prepare, as players on the field, to support, assist and help pave the way, for our girls, towards improving their sexual, and reproductive health’ she said.
Mrs Mahama said the launch of the United Continental ‘All In’ Adolescent HIV campaign in Ghana in February, on the sidelines of the 7th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights calls on countries, to begin listening, involving, and including young people, in efforts to reduce new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths.
She said the African First Ladies agreed at that meeting that the best practice was to build adolescents’ capacity, and have them lead the efforts.
She explained that OAFLA members have therefore begun operationalising, the campaign, through the development of a number of country-level, and community outreach plans. And added that “We are organising events, to intensify the momentum generated, targeting adolescents’, especially adolescent girls, in our respective countries,”
She said the UN meeting therefore offers an opportunity, to further advance the course, by reflecting on the current challenges, and gaps, in relation to improving sexual, and reproductive health needs, of our adolescent girls, and then to look ahead at how to make this a reality.
The OAFLA President said various partnerships with donor partners have helped reach many more girls with sexual reproductive health, and rights services, as well as skills building, and empowerment programmes.
‘Now, further partnerships, and funding opportunities, need to be identified, to comprehensively scale up interventions’ Mrs Mahama said.
She appealed to all to work with OAFLA members to ensure comprehensive sexual, and reproductive health, and rights for adolescents; especially adolescent girls in Africa.
Mrs Mahama expressed the hope that statements, comments, panel deliberations and general discussions as well as ideas that would come out at the sideline meeting would define the course, for the role of first ladies and lead the transformation, for their own health and development as headway towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030
For her part, the First Lady of Sierra Leone, Mrs Sia Korama appealed to the donors for more support to enable OAFLA to continue with its work.
She said with the continued advocacy work of OAFLA members a lot of strides had been made on the continent especially in the fight against HIV and AIDs.