The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has placed an African woman at the helm of his organisation's fight against HIV and AIDS.
Botswana-born Elizabeth Mataka, who is currently the executive director of the Zambian National AIDS Network, this week officially replaced Stephen Lewis as the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for HIV and AIDS in Africa.
She told IRIN/PlusNews: "Some people might feel that I have 'big shoes' to fill when considering my predecessor, but I am a woman who not only comes from one of the world's hardest-hit countries, but who also has been working in the field of HIV and AIDS for the past 16 years."
"Stephen Lewis has done remarkable work on all fronts in the pandemic, but there is still a long way to go, especially when it comes to addressing the impact of this disease on women and children. I am confident that my experience as both a woman and a scholar make me a suitable conduit for moving the fight again AIDS to the next level," she commented.
Mataka's weighty credentials include the vice-chair of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and Malaria, stints in government, the private sector and founder member of the Southern African Network of AIDS Service Organisations.
Mataka stressed there was an urgent need to scale up financial and human resources to meet the challenge of reaching the goal of universal access for treatment, care and prevention.
Richard Delate, advocacy and media advisor for UNAIDS in eastern and southern Africa, welcomed the special envoy's appointment.
"Due to a position of powerlessness and financial dependence on men, most women are often at increased risk of HIV infection ... given the new special envoy's ties to the Global Fund and her vast knowledge of the pandemic, the economic status of women will hopefully receive a much-needed boost," he said.
Delate acknowledged the high-profile energy of former UN envoy, Stephen Lewis, but said it was high time that a woman headed the fight against pandemic. According to UNAIDS, women and girls make up almost 60 percent of adults living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.
Officials at the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), a Johannesburg-based civil society organisation, welcomed the UN's choice of Mataka as special envoy as a "step in the right direction" for all women affected by HIV and AIDS
"It is admirable that it is a not just a token woman, but one that brings a wealth of knowledge and is so vocal in the ongoing battle against the pandemic. Mrs. Mataka has been at the forefront in advocating for the rights of groups that include differently abled persons, women and youth ... that dedication, coupled with her passion as a woman, will only help drive the fight forward," said Sisonke Msimang, HIV/AIDS programme manager for OSISA.