French first lady becomes global AIDS ambassador
AFP - Tuesday, December 2
PARIS (AFP) - - Wearing a red ribbon, French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy on Monday became a global AIDS ambassador, vowing to direct the media spotlight on her toward a "more important" cause.
The wife of President Nicolas Sarkozy chose World AIDS Day to announce her new mission as ambassador for the Global Funds to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Nine months after her marriage to Sarkozy, the supermodel-turned-singer said she wanted to use her celebrity status to draw attention to "the most vulnerable victims of AIDS", women and children.
"I benefit from your regular and constant attention," Bruni-Sarkozy told journalists, standing at a podium at the Elysee palace's Marigny guest residence.
"And today, I finally have an opportunity to direct your attention to something more important and more serious."
The first lady will focus her work on preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV -- which is virtually wiped out in Europe through treatment but still affects 30 percent of newborns in Africa.
Some 1,200 children are infected with HIV every day and half of those will not live beyond the age of two, according to UNAIDS.
Through field trips, advocacy and by mobilising other celebrities to add their voice to the struggle against AIDS, Bruni-Sarkozy hopes to bring renewed focus to a cause that appears to be suffering from donor fatigue.
"I believe that we have gotten used to AIDS," she said.
"We have gotten used to this disease and we don't see it as scandalous or a matter of urgency."
The first lady, who lost her older brother Virginio to AIDS two years ago, said she would "work hand-in-hand" with the fund to promote its treatment programmes, mostly in Africa.
Education is key, she said, to help women overcome the stigma of AIDS.
"Too often, women are frightened, frightened of being tested, frightened of being treated, frightened of being excluded from their communities and families."
Half of the 33 million people living with HIV worldwide are women, who represent 60 percent of new infections. Twenty percent of new infections occur in children.
The first lady, who released her third album in July, hopes to persuade private companies to make donations to the fund, whose work she said was "little known" and under-appreciated.
Set up in 2002, the fund has invested more than eight billion dollars to support national AIDS treatment programmes, out of the 14 billion dollars spent to combat diseases in 140 countries.
Some two million people have access to life-saving anti-retroviral drugs through programmes supported by the fund.
"Yes the progress is promising, but the challenge of AIDS still looms large," said the fund's executive director Michel Kazatchkine.
He stressed that 60 percent of new infections each year affect women and that in rich countries "no child is born with HIV anymore since prevention is so widely available."
Bruni-Sarkozy's announcement on Monday ended months of intense speculation in the press on her choice of philanthropic work.
She had expressed an interest in joining the battle against HIV following a visit this year to South Africa, which has one of the world's largest AIDS case-loads.
More than 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981 most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to UN AIDS.
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France First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy attends a press conference in Paris to mark World AIDS Day by unveiling her new mission as the first ambassador to the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
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