Page last updated at 11:54 GMT, Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Bruni-Sarkozy urges action on HIV

By Jane Dreaper
Health correspondent, BBC News


Carla Bruni: "I find it very important that every woman expecting a child can make sure the child will have a healthy life"

The French first lady says it is "unfair" that women and children in the developing world often miss out on treatment for HIV.

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy spoke about her work as an Aids ambassador for The Global Fund to mark World Aids Day.

She wants to raise awareness about the plight of children who are HIV positive because the virus has been passed on from their mother.

She also cited British Prime Minister's wife, Sarah Brown, as an inspiration.

It is a position that gives so many open doors and so much interest from the media
Carla Bruni-Sarkozy

The Global Fund was set up to fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.

It receives donations from the governments of leading nations - including the UK.

At present, only about a third of pregnant women in Africa get tested for HIV.

And of those who have the virus, 45% get the drugs that will stop HIV being passed to their child during birth or breastfeeding.

That figure has improved five-fold in the past few years, but the hope is to wipe out this route of HIV infection by 2015.

In her ornate office at the Elysee Palace in Paris, I asked Ms Bruni-Sarkozy why she had chosen to work for this cause.

She said: "I find it very important that every woman expecting a child can make sure the child will have a healthy life.

"We do have the medicines. It's just good sense.

"What motivates me is seeing the results this great work has.

"Children are born healthy and mothers don't transmit the virus to the baby, when they have the medicine.

"It's rather unfair that our babies in France and Europe can be born healthy, because the mothers can be treated."

Ms Bruni-Sarkozy, 41, is a former model and singer who married the French president in February 2008 after a whirlwind romance.

Aids is an issue that has touched her in a very personal way.

Her brother, Virginio, died from the condition three years ago.

She did not want to talk about his death though - because, she pointed out, he was well treated and had access to medicine.

Brown's lead

She took up her role as "ambassador for mothers and children against Aids" with the Global Fund a year ago.

Since then, she has visited hospital projects in Burkina Faso, in West Africa. She will visit Benin at the end of next month.

Ms Bruni-Sarkozy said Sarah Brown, had been "an example from the minute I met her" because of the "energy and strength" she brought to her work with the White Ribbon Alliance on trying to prevent deaths among women in childbirth.

On her role, Ms Bruni-Sarkozy said: "It's a funny position because it's not one you make yourself.

"It's just because you're married to someone basically.

"Since I'm in that position through marriage, I thought I might as well use it to defend something I believe in.

"It's difficult for me to have two hats and put pressure on my husband. It's not as if I'm a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO).

"So the position is very delicate - because it's not a political position, but it's reliant on politics through my personal life, which makes it really strange."

But she added: "It is a position that gives so many open doors and so much interest from the media.

"I can talk about these women and children to the BBC - it's fantastic!

"You can bring visibility to something that's maybe been in the dark."

Ms Bruni-Sarkozy said her life had changed completely in the two years since she had become first lady of France.

"Before I was married, I wouldn't say I was self-centred. I had concerns about issues. But as an artist, I was living in a bubble.

"I wasn't so much in contact with the problems, despairs and dramas of the world every day."

Complacency warning

The latest global projections suggest that the level of new HIV cases is easing off.

But the French first lady cautioned against complacency.

She said: "The danger is getting used to the HIV problem, and - especially for young people - thinking that because there are medicines, people are maybe not prudent enough.

"There is still no vaccine - at least not one that is useable yet. So that's why World Aids Day is a really important day."

The Global Fund has received funding commitments worth $20bn since it was established in 2002.

Ms Bruni-Sarkozy is its only ambassador. The head of the Fund, Professor Michel Kazatchkine, says she has proved invaluable.

He said: "She brings a face and a voice for many people in the world who are voiceless and vulnerable.

"She has been tremendously helpful in increasing the visibility of the Global Fund.

"We are present in 140 countries and the major G8 countries contribute to our work - yet public opinion doesn't know enough about the extraordinary changes and successes in the fight against these diseases."

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