First Lady calls for united effort in HIV/Aids fight Health Ambassador First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa and her Nigerian counterpart Senator Oluremi Tinubu follow proceedings during World Aids Day commemorations in Victoria Falls yesterday

Tendai Rupapa in VICTORIA FALLS

TIME has come for communities to put their heads together to fight behaviour which fuels the spread of HIV/Aids and promote good communication among couples, Health Ambassador First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa has said.

The mother of the nation, who has a passion for the good health of all citizens, said she was concerned by reports of untrustworthiness and cheating among couples.

She made the remarks during the oversubscribed 35th World Aids Day commemorations in Victoria Falls where she held a lively interactive session with thousands of people in the packed Chinotimba Stadium to stimulate behaviour change.

So big were this year’s World Aids Day commemorations which fell on the eve of the International Conference on Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA), which begins in the resort town today.

The First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Senator Oluremi Tinubu, UNAIDS Executive Director Ms Winnie Byanyiwa, Government officials, UN agencies, development partners and other high level delegates from across the globe were among thousands of people in attendance.

Amai Mnangagwa also welcomed her counterparts First Lady of Mozambique Mrs Isaura Nyusi and the First Lady of Botswana Mrs Neo Jane Masisi who are in the country following her invitation to attend the First Ladies ICASA high level meeting today.

The World Aids Day commemorations were held under the theme: “Let Communities Lead.”

“We are here to mark the 35th commemoration of World Aids Day and be part of the annual campaign whose theme is ‘Let Communities Lead’. As we continue commemorating World Aids Day in memory of those that have departed, we are also celebrating communities for their tenacity and resilience in the response to HIV and other impending pandemics including the recent Covid-19.

“Communities have continued to play various roles to mitigate the impact of the pandemic,” the First Lady said.

First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa welcomes her Nigerian counterpart Senator Oluremi Tinubu who attended World Aids Day commemorations, and in honour of her invitation to attend the First Ladies’ ICASA high-level meeting slated for today in Victoria Falls

One of Zimbabwe’s major achievements, Dr Mnangagwa said, was the attainment of epidemic control where the number of new HIV infections is lower than the number of Aids deaths.

“In 2022 we recorded 17 300 new infections while deaths numbered 12 800. The country has managed to reduce new HIV cases down from 27 000 in 2018 to 17 300 in 2022. Although this trajectory is pleasing, the country still has to address new infections among women which are higher than men. Of the 17 300 new infections recorded in 2022, 10 000 were among women,” the mother of the nation noted.

“Before I sit down, I want to talk to my fellow women. It looks like we are the most affected by HIV and Aids, women are you there? Mazvinzwaka kuti tisu madzimai tiri pamberi. Tofa hedu here madzimai? How are the infections coming? As the demographic with the biggest number of infections, what then shall we do? What is it that we should do as females? Are the infections being brought to us or we are also contributing to this?” she asked, triggering countless responses from the gathering.

One of the women in the crowd spelt the need for people to follow advice from health personnel to combat the spread of HIV/Aids.

“In terms of efforts to curb the virus, we must stop being sex workers. We must teach one another how to prevent the spread of HIV and ask personnel from the Ministry of Health and Child Care to periodically come and assist us so that we may be protected from HIV,” she said.

The First Lady weighed in saying cheating was now sadly rampant among married people.

“Kwese kwandinofamba with my programmes around the country, men are also complaining that married women are also cheating.

“You find that women are also having multiple partners yet they are married. Some say they are doing this to ‘fix’ their husbands who are being promiscuous. We must curb reckless behaviour which fuels the spread of HIV/Aids. We must follow all we are taught by health personnel, especially taking medication that prevents it and seeing to it that we live well with our families,” she said.

First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa welcomes her Mozambican counterpart, Mrs Isaura Nyusi (to her right), following her invitation to attend the First Ladies’ ICASA high-level meeting in Victoria Falls today

Another lady contributor set a cat among pigeons when she hinted that men were to blame for cases of cheating in marriages.

“What I want to say is that women are being oppressed by men. Men are bringing in diseases because they are the ones who say to us women that if you do not sleep with me you will not get a job,” she said.

The mother of the nation remarked: “Men, you have seen the children (Iyasa) who were performing here. We have seen a lot of activity touching on both men and women. Multiple partners were said to be a source of HIV/Aids.

“Changing of partners fuels the spread of diseases so let us desist from that type of life which was reflected by our children from Iyasa.”

Yet another discussant felt men were being crucified for no reason.

“As men, we don’t blame it on us. This is an issue of blame game and the carelessness that is prevalent that we see from time to time. I think the best thing is to work together as couples, as communities to solve the problem. Let us not blame one another and help one another to prevent the pandemic. Let’s practice safe sex,” he said.

In closing, Dr Mnangagwa said people needed to put their heads together to find a lasting solution to issues affecting them.

“Let’s put our heads together and stop that practice that has destroyed us because it’s now a problem with everyone. Let’s work together, let’s listen to each other,” she said.

IYASA drama and dance group performs and displays banners on the importance of collective effort to end the pandemic by 2030 during the World Aids Day commemorations in Victoria Falls yesterday

This came as Nigerian First Lady, Senator Tinubu, commended Dr Mnangagwa for the work that she is doing through her Angel of Hope Foundation that addresses poverty, issues of diseases and gender-based violence among citizens.

She thanked Amai Mnangagwa for the warm reception and great hospitality.

“Also, I congratulate you for hosting the International Conference of Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) and applaud Zimbabwe’s leading response in tackling HIV/Aids. As we gather to commemorate the World Aids Day 2023 with the theme ‘Let Communities Lead’, this theme serves as a powerful reminder that the fight against HIV/Aids cannot be won without active involvement and leadership of communities around the world,” she said.

For decades, Sen Tinubu observed, the global response to HIV/Aids has been driven by Governments, international organisations and healthcare professionals.

“While their efforts have been commendable, it is time to recognise the pivotal role that communities play in shaping the response to this pandemic. Communities should be at the forefront of the fight against HIV/Aids and their leadership is crucial in achieving our goals of prevention, treatment and support. Global commitment is to eradicate Aids by 2030,” she said.

First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa and her Nigerian counterpart Senator Oluremi Tinubu join the crowd on the dance floor during the World Aids Day commemorations in Victoria Falls yesterday

Mr Edward Kallon, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, said he was delighted to be representing the UN System in Zimbabwe to commemorate World AIDS Day.

“We gather here to remember those that have lost their lives to AIDS, while also renewing our commitment to ending the epidemic by 2030. The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day is ‘Let Communities Lead’, recognising the vital role that communities play in shaping the HIV response and promoting global health. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge and congratulate the First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa, our esteemed guest of honour, for her dedication to community engagement and extensive work with communities in the response to HIV and other noble causes. Her efforts extend beyond HIV, encompassing broader mobilization endeavours for the nation’s Vision 2030, which seeks to create an upper middle-income society in Zimbabwe and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” he said.

Mr Kallon said as development partners, they were fortunate to witness the First Lady’s incredible work in a rural district.

“She supported and mobilised communities to expand health services, demonstrating the power of community leadership and engagement in responding to HIV and other development needs. Zimbabwe has experienced the transformative potential of community involvement in various aspects, including the mobilisation of resources under the AIDS Levy, the establishment of schools and teachers in every corner of the country, efforts in combating natural disasters like Cyclone Idai, and more recently, in tackling the challenges posed by COVID-19.

“In my two years in the country and during my visits to various areas of the country, I have seen first-hand that the Government of Zimbabwe recognises the importance of community leadership and has placed emphasis on devolution as a policy,” he said.

First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa flanked by her Mozambican and Nigerian counterparts Mrs Isaura Nyusi (right) and Mrs Oluremi Tinubu (left) share a lighter moment during a lunch reception in Victoria Falls yesterday

Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr Douglas Mombeshora, said: “Zimbabwe adopted a multi-sectoral approach in response to HIV which has always put communities first and is driving the response, providing leadership, financing, monitoring and holding the Government and Stakeholders responsible.

“Zimbabwe is one of the countries with very strong community structures and participation including the Aids Action Committees at various levels and networks for people living with HIV and for key populations all of which have been factored in determining the course of our response and the achievement it has recorded. We commemorate the World Aids Day this year within an environment of optimism having achieved the 95-95-95 target of epidemic control. These achievements have been a result of sustained implementation of high impact HIV prevention interventions.

“In this regard, my ministry has scaled up HIV testing coupled with pre-exposure prophylaxis and prevention of mother to child transmission. Condoms, voluntary medical male circumcision targeting adolescent boys and young women, sex workers and other key populations and many in risk profiling. Key programmes such as these sister-to-sister and peer communities are transforming the HIV prevention landscape giving us renewed hope that with communities leading, we can indeed conquer HIV/Aids,” he said.

Minister Mombeshora said while progress had been made, there were still challenges in ensuring that all maternal home deliveries are totally eliminated and that HIV positive pregnant women are on treatment and that HIV positive children are identified and initiated on treatment.

First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa welcomes her Botswana counterpart Mrs Neo Jane Masisi at Victoria Falls International Airport last night in honour of her invitation to attend the First Ladies’ ICASA high-level meeting slated for today.— Pictures: John Manzongo

National Aids Council chief executive officer, Dr Bernard Madzima said NAC and the entire community of the response to HIV and AIDS, felt honoured to be part of the World AIDS Day commemoration, as the nation remember those who died of AIDS and recommits to scaling up HIV prevention and treatment interventions in an environment of increased community participation and ownership.

“This year’s theme resonates with our practice in which we rotate the hosting of the World AIDS Day among all provinces, allowing communities and multi-sectoral partners to always play a bigger role in the response to HIV.

“The World AIDS Day has always been about communities in Zimbabwe. There have been various community-led pre-launch initiatives such as the candle light memorial, 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence and others, all which put communities at the core of the response. Various post-launch activities will also follow as other provinces launch and commemorate the campaign,” he said.

Dr Madzima said after receiving the global theme, they always engaged the hosting province and conducted community dialogues to localise the theme and develop appropriate messages to animate the annual campaign. We will continue to steepen this trajectory and ensure that communities play key roles in leading the response towards an Aids-free generation, with zero new infections and zero Aids-related deaths as well as discrimination and stigma,” he said.

Mr Bruce Nyoni from Zimbabwe Aids Network congratulated Zimbabwe for winning the ICASA bid.

“Zimbabwe Aids Network would like to congratulate Zimbabwe for winning the ICASA bid. It has been the relentless efforts from both the community and our leaders. To move forward we would like to show the best practices that we do in HIV response as we are geared as a nation to end Aids by 2030. The national development strategy NDS1 which is being spearheaded by the able Government under the leadership of his Excellency President ED Mnangagwa and as an organization and as a community we continue to offer our double commitment to make sure that we complement all Government efforts,” he said.

Chairperson of the National Executive Council for the Zimbabwe network of people living with HIV (ZNNP+) Mr Marshal Makorovodo said communities should be at the left, right and centre of the response to HIV.

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