By Ben Kangwa
Kristie Mikus, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Country Coordinator in Zambia, recently noted that work already accomplished through U.S. government sponsored HIV programs has paved the way for broader women’s health gains in Zambia.
priorities for women's global health during the second Obama
Before PEPFAR, fewer than 3,500 people were on antiretroviral therapy (ART). Now, nearly 500,000 Zambians living with HIV are receiving ART. PEPFAR contributions in Zambia also include the training of healthcare workers, laboratory improvement, supply chain strengthening to increase the availability of essential medicines, and enhanced monitoring and evaluation activities to increase quality of services throughout the country.
Taking part in a panel discussion on “U.S. Policy Priorities for Women’s Global Health in the Obama Second Term” at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC on 7th March, 2013, Ms. Mikus noted that PEPFAR programs in Zambia are well situated to build cervical cancer and maternal health programs onto existing HIV and AIDS services to save more Zambian women. In addition, the high rate of women accessing PEPFAR prevention of mother-to-child transmission services provides an opportunity to offer family planning information in the same visit.
Kristie Mikus (fourth from right) at the CSIS panel discussion
in Washington DC
Earlier in the discussion, keynote speaker U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius affirmed that no other investment has a larger payoff than investing in the health of women and girls as benefits ripple throughout their communities. Since HIV remains the leading cause of death among women of child bearing age, Secretary of Sebelius stated that combating HIV in women and girls and ending mother-to-child transmission are top priorities of Obama’s Second term in office.
The keynote address was followed by a panel discussion based on a CSIS report that included praise for US President Barack Obama and ongoing international efforts to increase access to contraceptives around the world.
The panel also included Carla Koppel, the USAID Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, Phil Nieburg, the Senior Associate at CSIS Global Health Policy Center and Kay Warren, the Founder of the HIV Initiative at Saddleback Church from Lake Forest in California.
Contributing to the discussion, Mr. Phil Nieburg who is Senior Associate at the CSIS Global Health Policy Center sated that Cervical Cancer kills 275,000 women every year, with 80 percent of those killed living in developing countries.
He pointed to the direct link between HIV and cervical cancer. He said this was because women with HIV compromised immune systems were much more likely to get cervical cancer. Mr. Nieburg also noted that with the second highest cervical cancer rates globally, these services were critical to strengthen women’s health in Zambia.
In her submission, USAID Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment described a “Gender based Violence Response Initiative” now in its second year in Mozambique, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
She observed that gender violence was more than simple violence that included men who are a significant share of the victims noting that Gender Based Violence (GBV) had a significant economic cost in developed and developing countries alike.
The Founder of HIV Initiative, Saddlebuck Church told the meeting that the stigma of HIV/AIDS, with the lack of understanding was the cause of most problems in the general population. She noted the need to overcome the two with HIV/AIDS education.
Three short videos produced by CSIS on the importance of women’s global health programs both for U.S. global health policy and for the countries where they operate were also shown during the panel discussion.
The first video featured Her Excellency, the President of Malawi Joyce Banda while the other two were set in Zambia and mainly featured the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health Professor Elwyn Chomba.
In the videos, titled “Saving mothers, Giving Life “, Professor Chomba gave the most accurate and compelling account of the Zambian government’s vision for women’s health in Zambia and her Ministry’s involvement in those efforts.
---------------------------------------------------The Writer is Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of the Republic of Zambia in Washington DC