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At Int'l AIDS Conference, African Women Launch Coalition

Women from various African countries, including Zimbabwe, have formed a coalition to fight HIV/AIDS, at the ongoing International AIDS Conference in Washington, urging prevention and treatment to focus mostly on young women still at child-bearing stage.

The Pan African Positive Women’s Coalition was officially launched amid ceremony on Wednesday.

Zimbabwe Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe, current president of the Global Power Africa Women Network, urged women to fight the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, and focus on improving their lives.

Khupe gave a personal account of how she bravely fought breast cancer without giving in to negative comments and attitudes.

“Some people were saying 'look she is thin, she is dying' but I fought on," she said to thunderous applause. "I went bald during treatment, refusing to wear a wig. I stood tall and was proud of myself. Today, I stand in front of you alive and kicking.”

The organization’s convener, Tendai Westerhorf, also a Zimbabwean and publicly living with HIV, outlined the aims of the organization, which has a membership of 24 African countries.

She said the group will work with civic organization at country level and international groups to implement policies.

Delegates from other African countries complimented the newly-formed group and delivered messages of solidarity. A moment of silence was observed to honor the late Ghanaian president John Evans Atta Mills, who died Tuesday.

Speaking to Studio 7 on the sidelines of the conference, ending Friday, lawmaker Blessing Chebundo, chairman of the Zimbabwe Parliamentarians Against HIV/AIDS said the global focus of the conference will energize people from all countries to fight the epidemic.

At Wednesday’s plenary session, experts told the International AIDS Conference that women still bear the burden of HIV/AIDS three decades into the epidemic, adding females therefore, needed to be a priority in research, care, and treatment.

Chewe Luo, Senior Advisor on HIV/AIDS at UNICEF said the global aim is to eliminate new HIV infections by 2015.

Luo added a research is being done to test and treat HIV positive pregnant women regardless of their CD4 count to optimize their health and reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and spreading of the virus among couples.