May 10th, 2013 12:10 PM UTC
By Dr. Sipho Moyo
In a few weeks, the UK government will host a major international event in London called Nutrition for Growth: Beating Hunger through Business and Science. Happening just days before the 2013 G8 Summit in Lough Erne, it will bring together governments, businesses, scientists and civil society to examine strategies that could improve the quality and quantity of food available to the world’s poorest people.
Back in March I attended a highly energised meeting of African civil society organisations in Ethiopia, who had gathered for Africa’s biggest annual forum on agriculture and where we launched our report A Growing Opportunity. We all agreed an urgent message needed to be sent to the international community before the June summit in the UK.
As a result, ONE together with 36 other African organisations have written to UK Prime Minister Cameron asking his government to ensure that African-led agriculture is at the heart of the Nutrition for Growth event, and specifically the existing CAADP plans.
CAADP stands for the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program. It has already created momentum to reform agriculture in 40 out of 53 African countries and many more are joining. This makes it the single best existing framework that would support the G8 to deliver excellent results from their food security and nutrition investments on the continent.
CAADP will also become the central organising vehicle for the African Union year of Agriculture in 2014. African states have committed themselves become more accountable to their people on accelerated progress in fighting hunger and helping small-holder farmers access better investment, technology and markets to sell their produce.
African leadership, political will and investment is critical to realising the poverty reducing potential of African agriculture. The private sector and international community also has a very important supporting role to play in investing in African-led agriculture.
Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, has said, “Africa has potential, but it cannot eat potential. More coordinated action is needed”.
Rather than re-invent the wheel, the G8 must build on the momentum growing across Africa and fund the agriculture plans already in place.
Jan 18th, 2013 9:41 AM UTC
By Guest Blogger
Guest blog post from Malaria No More.
Last summer the Confederation of African Football endorsed United Against Malaria partnership – of which Malaria No More is a key member – as a premier social cause of the most-followed events in Africa: the 2013 Cup of Nations (AFCON) football tournament.
The most revered champions of Africa’s best loved sport talking about malaria during Africa’s most watched public events? A captive audience of 6.6 billion people, most of them living in malaria-endemic Africa? What could be more captivating!
The biggest names in African football and the top political leaders in Africa’s malaria fight signed onto the campaign, and lent their time to record public messages about malaria for their African audience. These include five elite footballers and five African presidents, including football legends Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o, and the first-ever female African head of state, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. TV, radio ads, and billboards were created which feature the players and presidents, targeting policy-makers and decision makers about investments in malaria programs, as well promoting calls-to-action with simple steps to prevent and treat malaria.
Didier Drogba’s Malaria Prevention PSA
To ensure these malaria messages are heard by football fanatics continent-wide, 10 pan-African TV/radio stations, including the biggest radio station in Africa and the official football tournament channel, advertisements in over 10 countries, and 75 billboards in more than 13 countries are helping get the job done.
In addition to the tremendous media support, the campaign launched at the African Union Summit to include more African Heads of State, and a TV spot about the campaign aired during the AFCON Draw and East Africa CECAFA tournament. During the AFCON games, the campaign will be included during AFCON half-times (when football fans are already tuned into watch their favorite footballers), in AFCON sportscasters’ dialogue during televised games, and at the AFCON Final Game’s closing ceremony?
Football stars in malaria prevention billboards around Africa
For Africa’s social media users, a 2-minute quiz is available on the United Against Malaria Facebook page for the chance to win Drogba-autographed swag, like a football or a jersey.
Dec 18th, 2012 4:30 PM UTC
By ONE Partners
What can we do to fight corruption? One of the most frequently asked question Transparency International got when we published the Corruption Perceptions Index 2012 last week.
The question is especially pertinent in Africa, which only has five countries in the top 50 countries on the index, where lower scores indicate a greater perception of public sector corruption in 176 countries. 90% of African countries on the index score less than 50 out of 100, with Botswana in 30th place showing what can be achieved in the fight against corruption, and Somalia in last place warning what happens if you don’t.
Corruption is a daily burden in Uganda, which ranked 130th out of 176 countries, and has recently faced a major aid scandal. The situation is particularly tense in the health sector. Our research has shown that less than half of staff were available at health facilities. The absence of health specialists inevitably exposes people to paying bribes if they want preferential treatment.
Indeed, 24 per cent of health providers we surveyed acknowledged that taking informal payments in exchange for services is common. 44 per cent reported that service users sometimes offer gifts to health workers. (Our colleagues in Zimbabwe face a similar challenge: nurses once fined women for screaming during labour).
The situation is aggravated by the lack of transparency and accountability, making it harder for citizens to tackle the problem. None of the lower level health facilities we looked at had complete financial records, and most facilities did not have updated drug stock registers.
In 2010 we set out to address corruption problems in healthcare and farming by rolling out several development pacts in central Uganda, similar to those tried by our colleagues in India.
We told communities to pick their own development agenda, then asked local politicians to commit to fulfilling that agenda. People were able to pick the issues that matter to them, and clearly described what they expect their leaders to deliver.
Some of the leaders refused, some signed up. Not surprisingly, more of the latter were re-elected than the former.
Photo: A regional politician signs a pact.
After the pacts were signed, citizens set up committees to monitor progress. Politicians and officials now often give the committees access to their offices to get information.
The result was relentless community pressure for better services. The committees personally counted drugs as they were being delivered. The list of drugs received is posted on notice boards. More staff have been hired, more mosquito nets delivered and more people are visiting the health centre. Parents have learnt to monitor budgets, and are now tracking school budgets too.
The people from my village are happy because they can receive all the basic drugs prescribed to them by the physician at no cost and drug shortages have become history in the health centre – A member of the Kyebe sub-county community
Another priority was government funding for subsistence farmers. The government provide funds to support farmers. Under the scheme, local authorities are supposed to use funds from the state to buy seeds and equipment for local subsistence farmers. The problem is they often buy sub-standard seeds and machinery and keep the difference.
We held review committees attended by both local politicians and government representatives. In the past, politicians had always blamed the other for failings. But when they were all in the same room, it suddenly became harder to duck responsibility.
Photo: Transparency International and community members witness the pact signing
We have managed to give farmers more control over the process. The criteria for selecting farmers who receive support was made simpler and more open. More farmers joined the government support programme, having been made aware of their rights and the selection process was made more open.
Our work continues.
In the north of the country, we are now helping citizens report problems in health care by sending SMS text messages. For example, they warned that malaria nets are not being distributed despite the fact that a health centre that recently received a delivery from central government. Read more on this here.
Dec 4th, 2012 7:08 PM UTC
By Malaka Gharib
Find out which of the five finalists will win the 2012 ONE Africa Award tomorrow at 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. EAT, right here on the ONE Africa Blog. I’ll be blogging live from the GAVI Partners Forum in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where ONE is hosting the awards ceremony.
To follow along, simply scroll through the updates in the widget below and refresh every few minutes or so. The updates will not start until 12:30 p.m. EAT. We’ll be on standby to answer any of your questions, so if you have any, please leave them in a comment below.
Dec 4th, 2012 1:15 PM UTC
By Nealon DeVore
Our next 2012 ONE Africa Award finalist is an inspiring organization from Uganda called Supporting Orphans & Vulnerable for Better Health, Education and Nutrition (SOVHEN).
As an orphan raised by his grandparents in rural Uganda, Richard Bbaale looked up to their daughter as an older sister as he learned to navigate this big wide world. When she was in her teens, he noticed that she began staying home from school for a week at a time, usually once a month or so. He even noticed that his sister used mud and leaves—to control the bleeding he’d later find out—since their grandparents couldn’t afford the expensive sanitary pads that would have helped her stay in school, prevented infections, or saved her from embarrassment. Years later, that feeling of helplessness and regret for his sister’s missed education haunted Richard.
Fast forward to Martyrs University Nkozi in the early 2000s. Richard is a student and starts a student club with his friends that focuses on supporting orphans and other vulnerable groups in rural communities with tutoring, encouragement, extra-curricular activities and more. The university students take turns to volunteer and go out to the communities in the four districts on which they have focused. They raise money at times to buy food, school supplies and maybe a football or two so the children have a distraction. The volunteers increasingly notice that young girls, once they became of age, continued to increasingly miss school until they no longer bothered to attend. With Richard advancing in his studies of science and engineering, the thought of his sister still nagged at him. While visiting a village one day, he noticed the discarded stem of a banana tree, its bananas freshly plucked from it. These stems littered the roads and paths of these rural areas. Surely there had to be a use for them.
And with that thought, Richard and his group of friends, which had formally registered as SOVHEN, set their minds to finding a solution for these girls. They soon set upon developing a sanitary pad that is affordable and created from sustainable and bio-degradable materials. The discarded banana stem, when pressed and processed, provided an absorbent fiber that when placed into sheaths of special paper and shaped, could provide the solution to help keep girls in schools. As they refined the idea and tested prototypes, SOVHEN began soliciting partnerships that could support the roll out. Now after about four years of manufacturing the sanitary pads in SOVHEN’s rural facilities, SOVHEN has developed a distribution network that employs teams of women to sell the pads. These pads are readily distributed in the four rural districts of Uganda in which SOVHEN operates through a close-knit network of women who earn money by selling the pads. SOVHEN has also created employment in these rural districts by locating the banana stem processing and manufacturing facilities there so that local women and men are paid salaries for their work. The individuals that manufacture, distribute and sell Bana-pads go through extensive business development training and coaching. SOVHEN’s Bana-pads are not the sole source of income for these people, but by participating with SOVHEN, they are learning important skills that can translate into their own enterprises.
In addition to the work surrounding the development and manufacturing of the pad, SOVHEN is still active in its communities by providing additional services to orphans and the vulnerable. With a presence in these communities’ schools, SOVHEN raises awareness of the specific challenges girls face in their educational development. SOVHEN, working with other community groups, has been responsible for changing the attitudes surrounding girls as they become of age and reducing the stigma of the menstrual cycle. SOVHEN also works hand-in-hand with Uganda’s government to ensure its national strategies for youth unemployment and gender empowerment are fully implemented. In fact, representatives from the Ministry of Gender, Labour & Social Development had nothing but praise for SOVHEN’s efforts to keep girls in school while also creating employment with innovative, sustainable solutions.
SOVHEN directly impacts MDG 3 (gender equality) while also creating employment (MDG 1) and keeping girls in school (MDG 2). We’re proud to recognize SOVHEN for their work and hope you enjoy learning their story!
Sep 19th, 2012 6:48 PM UTC
By Guest Blogger
The following is a guest blog from Surbhi Sarang, volunteer from tve, a charity that works with partners worldwide to make and distribute films which inspire change.
I am excited to share that media charity tve is running its first competition for films made by companies about their sustainability initiatives – the closing date for entries is fast approaching so if you have a great film, work for a best practice company, and want to share your innovative ideas please get in touch.
I’m a volunteer at tve and have been working on the Awards since March. During this time I’ve learned a lot about some of the amazing accomplishments (and challenges!) of the world of corporate social responsibility.
We are encouraging companies globally to use film and animation to share best practice on their corporate sustainability initiatives. We are looking for inspiring, captivating short films (of less than 10 minutes duration) about your company’s corporate sustainability initiatives. There are 3 categories: environment, community investment, and inspiring good governance.
We’ve just two weeks to go until the deadline to submit films closes and we are delighted to have entries from Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and Europe. We are keen to reflect what African companies are doing in this arena, and particularly looking for those. But if you work for any company with a film that has been made in the last three years about your sustainability initiatives, please contact me at email@example.com or check out our website at http://tve.org
Just a bit about tve - for 28 years now we’ve been working with networks and partners around the world to produce and distribute films on the environment and development. We tell the world’s most important stories from Rwandan soil scientists trying to revive their country’s degraded ecosystem to the challenges of child survival in sub-Saharan Africa. Set up in 1984 by the United Nations Environment Programme, WWF and the UK broadcaster Central Television, tve’s mission is to inspire change for a fairer, greener world.
Sep 10th, 2012 6:27 PM UTC
By Guest Blogger
This post by Kadiatu Blango was kindly provided by Restless Development
My name is Kadiatu, I am 20 and have two daughters. I had my second child when I was 18. Like every mother, I want the very best for my children and do everything I can for them, but I worry that it will be difficult for them, just like it was for me. My father died when I was very young and I was only able to go to school up until the age of six. I left my mother’s home to go and live with my uncle, but he was hardly ever around. His wife, my aunt, did not care for me as she did her own children and we did not get on. I was forced to carry out domestic chores while her children were able to attend school.
Kadiatu and her two daughters in their community
As the war became more intense, we moved to Freetown. Upon my return to the village my mother forced me to be initiated into the bondo society, a group that practices female genital cutting. I did not want to. I wanted to go to school.
My mother told me that she couldn’t afford to pay my school fees and yet she could afford to spend a lot of money on the initiation process. Once initiated, I was forced into marriage at the age of twelve and became pregnant the same year. The baby’s father left when I was six months’ pregnant. I haven’t seen him since. I suffered a lot to raise the baby with no support from my mother or any other relative. Selling wood, potato and cassava leaves were the main sources of income for myself and my child.
There was no way I could continue with schooling without parental support. Later I met another guy who fooled me around and made me believe he could handle my problems. He started well, but then he got me pregnant and ran away to Liberia. I got my second child at the age of eighteen. Life is very hard and quite challenging for us coming from a very poor family but we all do our best.
It need have been like this for me and it should not be like that for my two daughters. I want them to be free to get an education, to not be worried about marrying too young or experiencing violence. I want them to grow up to be strong young women who can make their own choices, go to school, own land and control their own lives.
What challenges do women face in your community?
The main challenges faced by women are numerous to name but a few are:
How does your family make a living?
What opportunities would you like to see for your kids?
What would you like to see leaders promise to do to help communities like yours?
What would you like world leaders to focus on that would have impact on your life?
Underlying this are high rates of teenage pregnancy – 34% of women aged 15-19 have either already had a baby or are pregnant. This also often leads to interrupted education, reduced earning potential, poor marital outcomes and reduced health outcomes for surviving children.
Furthermore, youth unemployment is a major problem in Sierra Leone, with an estimated one third of urban and one sixth of rural 20-24 year-olds out of work and over 17% of the urban populations aged 15-35 years unemployed. Work opportunities are rare (around 9% of the workforce are formally employed), which means that stories like Hawa’s are mainly the norm rather than the exception.
Featuring contributions from African citizens who are living in communities affected by extreme poverty, ONE’s African Voices series will follow their progress to give a better understanding of the day-to-day challenges they face and also to track changes that occur over time. Find out more at one.org/africanvoices.
Restless Development is an agency that places young people at the forefront of change and development. It works in Africa and Asia to empower young people to take their lives into their own hand and trains, educates and inspires young people to be part of the solution. Find out more at www.restlessdevelopment.org
Apr 25th, 2012 3:33 PM UTC
By Guest Blogger
Guest blog post by Jessie Seiler from Stomping Out Malaria in Africa
World Malaria Day is today, April 25, which means that Christmas has come in the springtime for those of us working to fight this disease. From Atlanta to Maputo, D.C. to Dakar, New York City to Phnom Penh, we’re looking around at the work being done to end malaria in our lifetimes and realizing that we’ve got a lot to celebrate. I have been lucky enough to spend the last several years watching as the fight against malaria changes, first in a small African village and now as a part of a major initiative to wipe out malaria, and so today is a day of happy memories and joyous expectation for me. Here’s why.
Before I came to the West African country of Senegal as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I didn’t know anything about malaria. During a brief but intense training period, experienced volunteers, Senegalese educators, and local community health workers showered us with the basic information about the disease: it’s characterized by high, cyclical fevers, horrible headaches, and vomiting. A child dies of malaria every minute. Malaria costs Africa $12 billion dollars every year. It’s particularly dangerous for pregnant women and children under the age of 5, which makes malaria seem almost consciously vicious.
And the real kicker? The crazy thing? The fact that fills me simultaneously with rage and hope? Malaria is entirely preventable and treatable. In fact, it was eradicated from the United States – completely wiped out – in 1951.
When I first started to understand these facts about malaria, I was filled with anger. It seemed like a tragedy. I couldn’t learn from the story, just mourn over it. But during the next two years of living and working in a tiny Senegalese village called Ndiago, I realized that we are living in a time of great hope and excitement. New technologies, growing awareness and intelligence, and a fresh zeal to eradicate malaria convince me that we’re about to see the disease’s hold on humanity ended, once and for all.
When I arrived in Ndiago, I started hearing about malaria’s impact on the community there. Everyone in the village of 300 reported having had a recent battle with malaria, or sibuuru, as it’s called in Wolof. But I quickly learned that when the community members said sibuuru, they really meant any malady characterized by headache, fever, and fatigue.
I was amazed. I knew that malaria was a big problem in this part of Senegal, but the people who were suffering from it didn’t have enough information about the disease to tell it apart from the aftermath of a long, hot day of working in the fields. No wonder getting rid of malaria seemed like such an imposing task: we were fighting blind.
In the beginning, I wasn’t much use myself. The first health talk I ever gave in village was about malaria, and it went horribly. Each family in Ndiago sent two women to hear me talk about the signs and symptoms of malaria and to watch me make neem lotion, a mosquito repellent made of cheap or naturally occurring ingredients that are easily available in rural Senegal.
It was a bust.
Having just been installed in the village about two weeks beforehand, I barely spoke enough of the local language, Wolof, to keep myself out of trouble, let alone talk about a complicated disease like malaria. I had made neem lotion before, during our brief but intense time in training, but never before a curious audience, and never by myself. As I poured in the shavings of a bar of soap, which melt in the neem leaf-infused boiling water, an exasperated lady in the front row of the crowd shuffled up to me. Grabbing the large spoon out of my hand and shooing me from the pot, she rolled up her flowing sleeves and started stirring powerfully. Apparently, I needed to be taught how to stir. Watching the soap dissolve, I wondered what exactly I was going to be doing in this village for the next two years. I couldn’t be trusted with the simplest of daily tasks, so it didn’t seem possible that I would be much of a community health educator.
Luckily, and to my eternal wonder and joy, humans get better at things as they go along. I spent two years learning Wolof, getting to know the 300 people who chose to share their village with me, and found out more and more about malaria and the role it plays in the lives of the Senegalese people.
Together, the community taught me what it was, what the members valued, what they wanted from their lives and from each other. They taught me how they saw malaria, what they thought of this threat to their lives, what they knew to do when they got sick. They helped me understand why they couldn’t pay the $4 to buy a mosquito net, even though they knew that sleeping underneath one every night would protect them from being bitten by the mosquitos that spread malaria. They talked about being too scared to go to the health post to seek treatment for a suspected case of malaria when their infant sons and daughters became ill, even though they knew the disease was so dangerous. They surprised me with their knowledge and resources, and saddened me with their matter-of-fact statements about their perceptions of the limitations on their lives.
Over the first two years of my time here, the people of the village turned every idea about public health I had on its head. Not only did I have to learn how to stir a pot of melting soap slivers, I had to start at the absolute beginning when it came to figuring out how health care and malaria prevention education should work. But it was exciting, because as I was learning more about malaria and how to fight it, so was my community. So was the world.
There is a health post in Ndiago, a small hospital with one nurse and a couple of trained community health workers. That’s where the people of Ndiago and the surrounding villages go when they’re seriously ill. But the hospital had no quick and easy way of testing for malaria, so anyone who came in with symptoms that looked like they could be caused by malaria were treated for it. It was an expensive system, but it was the best thing to be done. Better to catch every case of malaria and treat many people for a disease they didn’t have than to let even one patient die when a treatment was available.
The advent of Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs), which came to Ndiago about the time I was getting settled in there, changed everything. With a simple prick of a patient’s finger and a little drop of blood, the nurse could diagnose malaria immediately and start treatment with the appropriate drugs. Not only did the costs associated with malaria in the community begin to drop, but also people became better at recognizing malaria. They knew they could be tested for it, immediately receive treatment, and immediately start to feel better. Now that the people of Ndiago could put a label on their experience, the disease stopped being a mysterious and unpredictable force. These RDTs are becoming more and more widely available everywhere in Africa. For me, for the community of Ndiago, and for the people working to fight malaria all over the world, their presence means that the disease is starting to feel like a more manageable, weaker enemy.
Watching the people of Ndiago get better access to diagnosis and treatment was one thing, but we needed something more. Mosquito nets have long been an important part of malaria control programs across the world, but now we’ve got a super weapon of sorts: nets treated with a long-lasting insecticide. Not only do these nets provide a physical barrier between a sleeper and a mosquito, but they also take out any mosquitos that land and rest on them. Basically, they’re mosquito traps baited by sleeping children.
NGOs, the Senegalese National Malaria Control Program, and other major players all have been pushing these nets for some time now, but the programs of distribution were not coordinated or thorough. Sometimes, distribution campaigns were aimed at pregnant women and children under the age of 5, who are at the greatest risk of dying from malaria. So when these groups were given free nets, other naturally assumed that they were being skipped over because they weren’t at risk. Men and older children continued to get malaria regularly, and so the disease continued to thrive in communities across Senegal even though there were more nets on the ground and in use.
Realizing that there was a better way, a handful of Peace Corps Volunteers joined forces with the local health structure and pioneered what’s now become the standard practice for a distribution: universal coverage of mosquito nets, paired with a comprehensive system of anti-malaria education for the people receiving nets. The nets are designed to last up to five years, and the knowledge about malaria, its symptoms and how to prevent it, will last a lifetime. Instead of giving out nets to pregnant women alone, the new campaign trains health workers to take a census of every sleeping space in the village, whether it’s a bed or a mat on the ground. Those health workers are also charged with talking to families about the symptoms of malaria, what makes it different from other diseases, and how communities can protect themselves from it. Sibuuru is no longer a mystery disease that sneaks children away. We know malaria now, and we know how to fight it.
Today in Senegal, local and international partners have covered or are covering 12 of the 14 administrative regions in the country. Malaria rates are dropping everywhere, and the excitement is growing. An ambitious but realistic program in northern Senegal, where malaria rates are already very low, even aims to stop the transmission of the disease by the end of 2013 using SMS technology and rapid diagnosis and treatment protocols.
All of these amazing changes in the ways we fight malaria make me think of my own progress. I started out knowing very little, like the community of Ndiago. But the more I learned, the more the people of Ndiago learned, and the more the international community learned, the better we became at fighting malaria. This fight is an example of what I love about humanity: we try something, we learn, we improve, and we try again. We’re getting better at this every day, smarter and more committed. It’s an adventure, and it means that malaria is no match for us.
Keep an eye on the people of Ndiago, of Senegal, and of all the other communities that have been ravaged by malaria for so long. You’re going to be amazed by the next few years. Together, we’re going to end malaria. Celebrate with us today, on World Malaria Day, and tomorrow, maybe start thinking about what we should do next.
Apr 18th, 2012 10:47 AM UTC
By Warren Nyamugasira
Last month we asked ONE members in Uganda to tell us what they thought organisations like ONE should work on that would have a direct impact on their lives.
After all the attention the Kony 2012 campaign had put on Uganda, we wanted to see how Ugandans thought our advocacy work across the world could best work for them.
We received a fantastic response with replies coming in from across the country. Of ONE’s current priorities top of the list with 23% of the votes was ‘Enforcing transparency and fighting corruption in the oil and minerals sector’, followed by ‘Encouraging African and world leaders to keep their promises to fight hunger and promote investment in agriculture, food security and nutrition’ with 19%.
We are also received some wonderful suggestions on other areas where you think we should work. Here are just a few we received:
“Rural electricity is very critical to us Ugandans but should be made affordable by reducing the rate per unit. Transparency and fighting corruption is not limited to the oil sector alone. It should be seen to be done holistically for all of us…”
“I think emphasis should be put on empowering Africans to develop themselves using their own energies because that is a resource available to all. Using a SEEDSCALE approach would be the most effective. All others will end up leading to more corruption and insecurity…”
“Development of young leaders, 70% of the population in Africa is under 30 years, yet the leaders are in their 60s and 70s. My belief is that we can’t fight poverty, diseases and hunger without dealing with leadership issues. The education system doesn’t empower people to take charge of their lives and also design solutions to Africa’s problems. Africa is too rich to be poor. Let’s develop a new generation of leaders so that we solve our problems.”
“Encouraging African and world leaders to keep their promises to fight hunger and promote investment in Business, Technical and Vocational Education and Training.”
“Encouraging African and world leaders to address gender equalities in land access, agricultural investment, food security and nutrition.”
Thanks again to all the ONE members who took the time to share their views. We really appreciate your feedback, which will help guide our campaigns in the future. We will also share your thoughts with our partners.
Mar 8th, 2012 10:10 AM UTC
By ONE Partners
Here’s a post from our friends at the Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative (KAVI) in honor of International Women’s Day. KAVI is a collaborator of ONE’s partner the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI).
The first person in Kenya to speak publicly about her participation in an HIV vaccine trial, in 2001, was a woman. She was a former classmate of mine and also a medical doctor. I was fascinated to learn that this exciting research was happening right at my doorstep. Not long after, I left my position in the emergency room of a local hospital to join the Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative.
It’s becoming more widely known that African women bear the greatest burden of HIV/AIDS worldwide. According to UNAIDS, 59% of all people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are women. What is less well known is the immense contribution African women have made and continue to make to HIV-prevention research. For instance, the first clues that an AIDS vaccine might be possible came from African women. These were a small subset of sex workers in Nairobi and the Gambia who had been repeatedly exposed to HIV but not infected; they were apparently able to resist the virus. The finding sparked a search—which continues to date—for a vaccine that can teach the body to protect itself against HIV.
I am motivated to work in this field because I am convinced that a safe and effective HIV vaccine, one that is made widely available to those who need it most, will be a game-changer for African women. The reality is that millions of women are simply unable to access or negotiate the use of any of the HIV prevention methods currently offered, which makes it critically important that we expand the range of options available.
Today it is International Women’s Day, which for me is a time to celebrate the contributions women have made to HIV-prevention research. Female researchers, volunteers, advocates and decision-makers around the world dedicate themselves to this cause. It is now more urgent than ever that we sustain support for efforts to develop new tools to prevent HIV infection, specifically ones that address the varied needs of women.
A safe and effective HIV vaccine, used in combination with other prevention strategies, is our best hope of ending the AIDS pandemic. But developing new HIV prevention tools takes resources, people, and time—in the laboratory, in safety tests, and in clinical trials. Sustained investments in HIV vaccine research are therefore critical; so is political support.
African women are playing a key role in the global endeavor to stop HIV/AIDS, and in the years to come will continue to be a central force in making an HIV vaccine a reality. Join us in this effort!
Dr. Gaudensia Nzembi Mutua is a research physician at the Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative (KAVI). She is based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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