Carla Bruni takes up new role as AIDS ambassador

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France's first lady wants to focus on preventing mother-to-child AIDS transmission - a condition which affects 30 percent of newborns in Africa.

1 December 2008

PARIS – French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is putting her star power behind the global AIDS campaign to help fight a disease that counts her brother among its millions of victims.

The wife of President Nicolas Sarkozy will mark World AIDS Day on Monday by unveiling her new mission as the first ambassador to the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

"I can put all of the media coverage directed toward me to the service of a useful cause," the 40-year-old supermodel-turned-singer said in an interview to be published in Monday's edition of Elle magazine.

After her brother Virginio, a photographer, died of AIDS in 2006, the Bruni family set up a foundation in his name to promote AIDS education, but the first lady said her work with the fund would be "on a whole other level".

"I will make myself available to all those who are working on the ground with the global fund and who ask for my help. I will be working hand-in-hand with them," she said.

The title of Bruni-Sarkozy's third album "Comme si de rien n'etait" (As If Nothing Happened) is named after one of Virginio's photographs. He died at the age of 46.

"Because of my brother, of course I am very sensitive to the issue of AIDS," she said.

But the Italian-born first lady stressed that with 33 million people infected worldwide with HIV, AIDS had an impact far beyond her family.

"This is a pandemic. We tend to forget, we are used to it. But look at the figures. It's staggering."

As the fund's active ambassador, Bruni-Sarkozy wants world attention to zero in on preventing mother-to-child AIDS transmission - a condition virtually wiped out in Europe with easily-accessible treatment but which affects 30 percent of newborns in Africa.

"What I would like to do, working with the global fund, is to communicate directly with mothers and their children," said Bruni-Sarkozy. "This is probably complicated... We have to find a way to talk to them and that is why it's important to be on the ground."

The global fund has enjoyed celebrity support through the "Product Red" brand, launched by U2 singer and anti-poverty crusader Bono but this marks the first time that a well-known personality will be acting as its ambassador.

The fund's executive director Michel Kazatchkine said Bruni-Sarkozy could be a powerful "advocate" for stopping mother-to-child transmission, raising awareness on the need for more programmes and information to pregnant women.

"This is a disease that she knows well and that profoundly outrages her," Kazatchkine told Elle. "One thousand children are infected every day by the HIV virus and it would take so little to save them."

Set up in 2002, the fund has invested more than USD 8 billion to support national AIDS treatment programmes, out of the USD 14 billion spent to combat diseases in 140 countries.

Since her marriage in February to Sarkozy, there has been intense speculation in the press on the first lady's choice of philanthropic work to support.

Bruni-Sarkozy expressed an interest in helping the battle against HIV following a visit this year to South Africa, which has one of the world's largest AIDS caseloads.

The first couple has met with Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid hero and former president whose foundation has been at the forefront of South Africa's AIDS struggle and who has enlisted many celebrities in the cause.

News of the first lady's decision to add AIDS crusader to her list of accomplishments has been well-received in France, with the anti-AIDS group SIDACTION saying she will train an "extraordinary spotlight on this century's most serious epidemic".

More than 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981, according to UN AIDS.

[AFP / Expatica]


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