Increasing the rates of voluntary testing and improving public awareness about HIV and AIDS are critical to overcoming the pandemic in Zambia, the head of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has stressed during a visit to the African country.
Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF, is on a two-day visit to Zambia after earlier travelling to Lesotho, another Southern African country hard-hit by HIV/AIDS.
More than 1 million Zambians are estimated to have died from AIDS-related diseases since the 1980s, and Ms. Veneman used her visit to advocate for greater public awareness and for scaling-up voluntary testing among the public, according to a press release issued by UNICEF in Lusaka, the capital.
“In recent years, there has been progress in preventing the spread of this deadly virus,” said Ms. Veneman, who met with current Government officials as well as Kenneth Kaunda, the founding president of Zambia. Mr. Kaunda publicly tested for HIV in 2002.
“President Kaunda has led by example – his unwavering commitment in leading the fight against HIV and AIDS is an inspiration to us all,” the UNICEF chief said, adding that investing in education is also vital to turning back the spread of the disease in Zambia.
During her visit Ms. Veneman has also visited a camp for about 1,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had to flee their homes after recent heavy rains and floods, and toured a health-care centre that provides basic services to mothers and newborn children.
“Excellent work is being done,” she said. “The country has maintained polio-free status since 2002. Zambia has also eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus, while diphtheria and pertussis [also known as whooping cough] are no longer public health problems.”
At the end of this month Ms. Veneman steps down as Executive Director of UNICEF and will be succeeded by Anthony Lake of the United States.