Dispatch

22 April 2009

First Ladies Pledge to Improve Maternal Health, Stop AIDS and Promote Girls' Education

LOS ANGELES -The African First Ladies Health Summit concluded with a commitment by these influential women to use their positions to improve maternal health, stop the AIDS epidemic and promote girls’ education.

The two-day summit attracted first ladies from more than a dozen African nations and a wide range of supporters from diverse organizations and corporations.

Moving beyond rhetoric was the theme of the closing panel, which was moderated by actress and activist Sharon Stone. During the session, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director Purnima Mane praised the First Ladies for their dedication and determination, saying there is no greater cause today than advancing the health and rights of girls and women, and no better investment.

The panel also featured Jill Sheffield, Director of Women Deliver; Gill Greer, Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation; Sia Nyama Koroma, First Lady of Sierra Leone, and Penehupifo Pohama, First Lady of Namibia.

Ms. Mane encouraged the First Ladies to continue to put girls and women first in their countries. She said she herself would not have made it to where she is had she not received support and an education. Ms. Mane highlighted five key actions to be taken together with partners to make greater progress:

  1. Champion the Maputo Plan of Action to expand access to sexual and reproductive health services
  2. Promote the national maternal health roadmap to expand maternal and newborn health services
  3. Integrate reproductive health services such as family planning and maternal healthcare with interventions for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria
  4. Advocate zero tolerance of violence and discrimination against women and girls
  5. Seek increasing partnership and funding for these initiatives

The keynote address was delivered by Sarah Brown, wife of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and patron of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood. She made an impassioned appeal to the African First Ladies to champion the improvement of maternal health in their countries.

Addressing the chronic underfunding of health and education, Mrs Brown said: “I have learned more and more about these great challenges, I have kept asking myself whether there is one goal that could unlock all these goals?

"And I have become convinced a mother's survival is the key.”

Mrs. Brown said that a low maternal mortality rate is a crucial test of whether an African country has “an adequate and functioning health system”.

The African First Ladies Health Summit was convened by U.S. Doctors for Africa, and African Synergy against AIDS and Suffering, as an opportunity for African First Ladies to present their work, interact with a broad range of experts, and foster networking and partnership. The Summit concluded with a star-studded gala at the Beverly Hilton which featured entertainment by Grammy award winning vocalist Natalie Cole.