South Africa raises women’s health awareness at UN

29 September 2015

Thobeka Madiba-Zuma, South Africa’s first lady, has used her presence in New York City, where she is attending the 70th session of the United Nation General Assembly (UNGA), to promote women’s health awareness.


Two issues relevant to women’s health, namely cancer, especially cervical and breast cancer, and HIV prevention and treatment, were in focus.

Madiba-Zuma participated in UNGA meetings such as “Putting cancer on the global agenda: the time to act now” on 27 September, as well as the Organisation of First Ladies Against HIV and Aids roundtable event, “Building on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to invest in the post-2015 development agenda”, on 28 September. The latter had a focus on adolescent and young people’s health.

“The only way we are going to address women’s sexual and reproductive health including cervical and breast cancer, HIV, Aids and TB, is to ensure that policies, programmes and services are integrated,” she said. “When a woman visits a health care provider, whether it is a GP or a nurse at a clinic, she should be treated as a whole person with a range of health needs.

“It is my responsibility to the people of South Africa to ensure that women’s sexual and reproductive health is kept high on the national and global agenda,” she said.

South Africa’s progress

South Africa has the biggest HIV treatment programme in the world and has managed to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV at six weeks from 8% in 2008 to 2.6% in 2013. Currently, though, adolescent girls and young women between the ages of 10 and 24 are being left behind by the national Aids response.

Madiba-Zuma advocated for strategic yet innovative and flexible strategies for adolescent girls and young women with regards to HIV prevention and treatment, with a clear link to sexual and reproductive health.

Through the Thobeka Madiba-Zuma Foundation, she works locally and globally with partners to advance the agenda on breast and cervical cancer, HIV and TB.

UNGA 70

This year’s General Assembly is historic for two reasons: it marks the 70th anniversary of the UN and the MDGs make way for the adoption of new global goals for sustainable development.

“The 70th anniversary of the UN is an opportunity to reflect – to look back on the UN’s history and take stock of its enduring achievements,” said secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. “It is also an opportunity to spotlight where the UN – and the international community as a whole – needs to redouble its efforts to meet current and future challenges across the three pillars of its work: peace and security, development, and human rights.”

More than 150 world leaders have gathered for the UN Sustainable Development Summit at UN Headquarters in New York to formally adopt the new sustainable development agenda. This agenda will serve as the platform for action by the international community and governments to promote shared prosperity and well-being for the next 15 years.

Vaccination programme

The first round of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination campaign ran from 23 February to 20 March this year. The campaign was conducted by the national Department of Health to protect young girls from getting cervical cancer caused by HPV. All girls in Grade Four who were nine years and older were to be vaccinated provided their parents had signed the consent forms. An estimated 500 000 girls in 18 000 public schools were to be vaccinated.

South Africa took a major step towards protecting women against cervical cancer on 12 March 2014 when Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi launched the government’s HPV vaccine campaign, targeting girls aged between nine and 12 years old.

HPV is a major cause of cervical cancer, which is responsible for the deaths of over 3 000 women in South Africa every year. The vaccination campaign will run during March and April. After six months, the same girls will receive the second dose of the vaccine.

“Today, South Africa [becomes] one of the few countries on the continent to provide this vaccine to all Grade 4 learners,” Motsoaledi said at the launch. “The one country which provides this vaccine is Zambia, and it only gives 25 000 vaccines. It’s a serious disease affecting women around the world.”

About 3 000 health workers have been trained to administer the vaccine, according to the Health Department. The Treasury has allocated R400-million for the campaign.

Madiba-Zuma was at the launch in 2014, and said that many women died painful deaths as a result of breast and cervical cancers. “South Africa today is witnessing a huge milestone, a step towards the right direction, which is prevention is better than cure,” she said at the time.

Source: SAnews.gov and SAinfo reporter