UNAIDS Executive Director Gunilla Carlsson has commended Beyond Zero’s innovative approaches in HIV/AIDS response and health services delivery in Kenya.
Ms Carlsson assured the First Lady of her organization’s continued support in the fight against the HIV/AIDS scourge and the ongoing measures aimed at taking health services closer to Kenyans in need through the medical safaris.
“You are an incredible advocate for maternal and child health. We are impressed by your contribution to the health sector through the Beyond Zero Initiative,” the UNAIDS head told First Lady Margaret Kenyatta.
Ms Carlsson was speaking when she hosted First Lady Margaret Kenyatta at the UNAIDS headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, where the First Lady shared experiences of her work through the Beyond Zero Initiative in support of the delivery of healthcare services in Kenya during a town hall meeting attended by hundreds of health stakeholders.
Addressing the meeting, the First Lady said she needed to do something significant to bring everyone’s attention to the high level of prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Kenya at the time she became First Lady.
“I needed to urge the government, plus local and international policymakers, to do more to safeguard the rights of women, mothers and children in the health arena. This formed the birth of my Beyond Zero initiative focusing on maternal and child health,” the First Lady said.
She said Beyond Zero, through its second strategic framework covering the period 2018 to 2022, is investing in interventions to reduce new HIV infections among adolescents and the complete elimination of mother-to-child transmission which threatens to erode the gains made towards curbing new HIV infections in Kenya.
The First Lady cited the Beyond Zero Medical Safaris, a health delivery model that takes free medical services to vulnerable communities in hard to reach regions of the country, as an example of the Beyond Zero’s innovative approaches in promoting better responses to HIV/AIDS and other health challenges.
“These services target women, children, people living with disabilities, the elderly, and adolescents. So far, these medical safaris have positively impacted over 20,000 lives and we plan more over the next year,” she said.
Outlining some of the achievements of the Beyond Zero initiative, the First Lady said the unique resource mobilization model through the half marathons raised funds to purchase 52 mobile clinics which have increased access to health services, including combating HIV/AIDS across the country.
“Beyond Zero has been instrumental in reducing maternal and child mortality from 52 per 1,000 to 39 per 1,000 live births,” the First Lady explained, pointing out that the mortality rate for children under five years has also gone down from 74 per 1,000 to 52 per 1,000 over the last six years.
“We galvanised resources through unique partnerships with NGO’s, the private sector and individuals through the Beyond Zero marathons including the most recent one held in March 2019,” she added.
To scale up the war against HIV/AIDS, the First Lady challenged individuals, communities and nations to join the efforts to end the scourge.
“I would like to encourage all of us here to take on the spirit of icons like Professor Wangari Mathaai. To turn your ‘little thing’ into a movement that will bring change. Let it grow to make a difference to an individual, to a community, to nations and to the world,” she challenged.
“The HIV/AIDS war continues, we cannot leave the battlefield just yet. We must recommit ourselves towards ‘Ending HIV by 2030’ so that in the years to come, when HIV/AIDS will be spoken of as a thing of the past, we shall remember the roles we played however big or small, in ensuring we left no one behind,” she continued.
First Lady Margaret Kenyatta informed the meeting that her Beyond Zero interventions work closely with communities that provide invaluable insights on how to be more impactful.
“We have incorporated the valuable support of community volunteers and community health workers who provide critical human resources support, especially in rural areas, to drive the health agenda,” she said.
Emphasizing the need for a multi-sectoral approach in the delivery of healthcare services, the First Lady said working with communities has shown that health interventions must be complemented by empowerment and education for women and young people.
“We know that a young girl who is married off early is likely to be at risk of contracting HIV or developing obstetric fistula and haemorrhage which cause the highest rate of maternal deaths among our young people,” the First Lady said.
Other speakers included Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki, National AIDS Control Council (NACC) Chief Executive Officer Dr Nduku Kilonzo and Dr Cleopa Mailu, Kenya’s Ambassador to Switzerland and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office in Geneva.