An HIV/AIDS-free Africa will go a long way in ensuring that the continent achieves accelerated economic growth and transformation, First Lady Jeannette Kagame has said.
Mrs Kagame, who was addressing the organisation of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) on the margins of the 72nd UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, said that for a continent that strongly believes in the role of the youth in shaping its future should do all it can to focus on their health and education for empowerment.
The conversation was themed: "Implementing the AU roadmap to Harness the Demographic Dividend in Africa: Ending AIDS by 2030."
"Our ability to harness the demographic dividend of our continent heavily relies on the health, and wellbeing of our young people, and so we must strengthen all the actors of our health system, to realise the goal of 'Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free' by the year 2020," Mrs Kagame said.
"So let us all further invest in our youth, by first protecting their rights to access good healthcare and education, so they can concentrate on maximising their opportunities for a brighter future."
While exploring Rwanda's journey to achieving the ambitious 90-90-90 targets by 2020, the First Lady said that Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV services were fully available in 96 per cent of public health facilities in Rwanda, allowing a total of 343,438 pregnant women to get tested for HIV, as of this year.
Among these women, 0.7 per cent were tested HIV positive, a decrease from 0.9 per cent recorded in the previous year.
The 90-90-90 programme aims at having, by 2020, 90 per cent of people living with HIV knowing their status; 90 per cent of people with diagnosed HIV receiving sustained antiretroviral therapy; and 90 per cent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy having viral suppression.
To optimise family engagement in PMTCT services, Mrs Kagame said that couple HIV counselling, and testing, in antenatal care setting has been promoted and the practice has seen 84.9 per cent of males attending antenatal care services, together with their wives, and getting tested for HIV in the context of PMTCT between July 2016 and June 2017.
"As a nation that believes in the lasting impact of empowering the youth, we can't afford to become complacent," she said.
Reinforcing concerted efforts
The First Lady also talked of the need to continue to reinforce the concerted efforts between all stakeholders in the healthcare chain: from universal healthcare coverage, decentralised access to care, and network of 45,000 trained community healthcare workers, to a health information system allowing the monitoring of data nationwide, to further build on current status of 87-89-93 on the 90-90-90 goal, in the fight against the HIV/AIDS virus.
She called on her counterparts from Africa to stay "firmly grounded" in their commitment to give African youth "a strong health system and not hinder their abilities, to go beyond the great expectations we have for them, and for our continent."
Meanwhile, Mrs Kagame also joined the International Trade Centre's discussion on "SheTrades," a session held under the theme, "Empowering Women in World Trade."
She said the role of women in trade remains "largely undefined and marginalised," hence the need to promote any initiatives that are women-owned "because they hold the potential to positively impact the lives of not just women, but entire communities as research has proven time and again."