Secretary Sebelius: When you invest in women and girls, the results ripple through their communities

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HHS Sec. Kathleen Sebelius delivers keynote address at CSIS event on women's global health.

HHS Sec. Kathleen Sebelius delivers keynote address at CSIS event on women’s global health.

Jemima, a rural Kenyan woman living with HIV and without medical care, had wasted to just 77 pounds when a friend brought her to a President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief-supported clinic. She went home that day with a basic health package put together by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. She started antiretroviral treatment, and within months she had returned to a healthy weight. Jemima now has referred more than 110 people to the same clinic that gave her her life back. A health leader in her community, she also supports her HIV-infected adopted children by selling medical products.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius told Jemima’s story Thursday at a Center for Strategic Studies event on U.S. policy priorities for women’s global health during the second Obama term.

No other investment has a bigger payoff than investing in the health of women and girls like Jemima, Sebelius said. The benefits of the investment in their lives, she said, ripple throughout their communities.

Sebelius called combating HIV/AIDS in women and ending mother-to-child transmission of HIV Obama Administration policy priorities, and she noted that HIV remains the leading cause of death among women of childbearing age. While 370,000 women have been linked to antiretroviral treatment during the first half of this fiscal year alone, she said, much more needs to be done.

The work already accomplished through U.S.-government sponsored programs has paved the way for greater success, said Kristie Mikus, PEPFAR country coordinator in Zambia.

Currently more than half a million Zambians living with HIV are receiving antiretroviral treatment, up from just over a couple thousand in 2004, she said. Other PEPFAR contributions, she said, including providing training, building laboratories, strengthening supply chains, providing monitoring and evaluation, have saved millions more lives.

PEPFAR’s impact has gone beyond reducing HIV and AIDS rates to addressing other women’s health issues in Africa, Mikus said. The public-private partnership Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon builds on the PEPFAR platform to expand the availability of cervical cancer screening and treatment, provide the HPV vaccine, and promote breast cancer education, she said.

Cervical cancer kills 275,000 women every year, with 80 percent of those killed living in developing countries, Phil Nieburg of CSIS said. He pointed to the direct link between HIV and cervical cancer, because women with HIV-compromised immune systems are much more likely to get cervical cancer. With the second highest cervical cancer rates globally, these services in Zambia are critical to strengthening women’s health in the country.

Zambia also has one of the highest fertility rates in the world, with 6.3 live births per woman, Mikus said, discussing a gap in family planning services there. PEPFAR programs are well suited to integrate family planning services with HIV/AIDS programs, and provide family planning counseling to women who receive antenatal care and prevention of mother-to-child transmission services at PEPFAR sites, Mikus said.

The event also featured a discussion of gender equality, and PEPFAR’s role in addressing violence against women, from Carla Koppell, USAID Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, who described a “Gender-based Violence Response Initiative” now in its second year in Mozambique, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Malawian President Joyce Banda appeared on video, thanking the United States for making it possible that she will, someday, see a generation of children born free of HIV/AIDS.

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