*This is a guest blog post written by Maria Jose Landeira Oestergaard, Zonta International/Zonta International Foundation President, 2014-2016
Today, on World AIDS Day, Zonta International joins UNICEF in recognizing the achievements that have been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, in supporting people living with HIV/AIDS, and in uniting globally to bring greater awareness to the challenges that remain in stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS.
This year's theme, “Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free Generation,” is particularly fitting for the long-standing partnership between Zonta International and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, which, since 2008, has focused on eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Rwanda. Next year, Rwanda will see its first HIV-free generation, and Zonta International is proud to be a part of this success story. Zonta International joins UNICEF and the Government of Rwanda in celebrating Rwanda’s successes.
As we look to 2015 and beyond, there is still an urgent need to focus our attention on adolescents and young people of reproductive age. We cannot simply say we have reached our goal of the first HIV-free generation in Rwanda and then assume our work is done.
When Zonta International began its support for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV project in Rwanda six years ago, nearly five percent of pregnant women in Rwanda were HIV-positive and risked transmitting the virus to their babies and an estimated 27,000 Rwandan children were living with HIV with 90 percent of them infected during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. Only one-third of those children received the antiretroviral medication they needed and only 20 percent of Rwanda’s hospitals were able to administer early HIV testing to infants.
Today, thanks to the focused partnership between Zonta International and UNICEF, more than 90 percent of all health facilities in Rwanda are now able to provide rapid HIV testing, resulting in more than 3 million people being tested and counseled for HIV in Rwanda in 2013 alone. Nearly 90 percent of antenatal care facilities now offer PMTCT services; 62 percent of HIV-positive mothers receive antiretroviral therapy; and more than 50 percent of HIV-positive children receive treatment and care services. HIV transmission from HIV-infected mothers to their children is now 1.6 percent, putting Rwanda on track to achieve an HIV-free generation next year.
Over the next two years, Zonta International is focusing its resources on projects and programs that address the root causes of gender inequality and violence against women. To that end, Zonta International is supporting UNICEF’s goal to ensure that a generation born free of HIV remains free from HIV throughout their lives. Through education – both teaching positive and healthy behaviors and changing negative behaviors - UNICEF will ensure the health and well-being of children and adolescents for generations to come. Zonta International and our more than 30,000 members in 67 countries are proud to support this life-saving work in Rwanda.