Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mozambique, Cape Verde First Ladies Bring Global Health Message To Washington

Back home in the United States capital, I woke up early this morning to attend perhaps the first advocacy event since the African First Ladies Health Summit earlier this week – that being a news conference for U.S. lawmakers, implementers and media rounding up the Summit’s activities and looking forward to actions being taken by the first ladies.

Two of the first ladies who attended the summit – Mrs. Maria da Luz Guebuza of Mozambique and Mrs. Adelcia Barreto Pires of Cape Verde decided to make a stop in Washington, D.C., on their way back from Los Angeles to make sure that the summit messages were heard by all partners involved – from the donor level to the country level to civil society. The event – organized by the Global Health Council – took place at the National Press Club.

Both First Ladies through their Portuguese interpreters laid out the major health issues in their countries and how they have and plan to address them in the future. Perhaps the most important part of the news conference was the feeling by both first ladies that they were energized to build on the partnerships they worked on at the Summit to work toward real results in bettering the health of women, children and families in their countries.

The highlight of the day came from Rep. Gwen Moore, D-WI, vice-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues, who gave a thunderous and enthusiastic speech about the U.S. response to global health issues and on the accomplishments of the two first ladies. Rep. Moore on behalf of the Global Health Council presented the first ladies of Mozambique and Cape Verde with 2009 Global Health Awards for the first ladies’ outstanding contributions toward improving the health of people in Africa. The smiling and hugging between Rep. Moore, Mrs. Guebuza and Mrs. Pires then commenced, to the delight of those in the audience.

Wrapping up the event, the Global Health Council's very own Executive Vice President Maurice Middleberg took a couple questions answered by the first ladies. As I review in my head what I have witnessed this week – a couple of thoughts. First, these gatherings will not alone help solve the major health issues facing Africa. However, we have seen in countries such as Rwanda and Mozambique that progress on key indicators in global health is possible if there is the political and social will to do so. If the gathering of the African first ladies is properly leveraged into spirited and concrete action in their home countries, then all the glamour of Hollywood and rhetoric of Washington will be worth it for the people living in their countries. I know that the Global Health Council and civil society stands to ready to work with them.

    – Vince Blaser

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sarah Brown Brings the House Down, African First Ladies Leave Summit Spurred to Action

Los Angeles, CA.: Dr. Hajiya Turai Umaru Yar'Adua, First Lady of Nigeria, talks about a three-wheeled ambulance that was designed to aid pregnant women in remote regions of her country. Photo by Stephen Osman

There were fewer cameras and less Hollywood star power at day two of the African First Ladies Health Summit in Los Angeles, but the heavy hitters of the policy arena stepped to the stage and the summit dug deep into the major health issues facing Africa.

Sarah Brown, wife of United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown, delivered an amazing keynote in the morning – bringing the African first ladies and partners in the audience to their feet. Mrs. Brown talked passionately about the issue of maternal health. She laid out an impressive argument about how averting maternal deaths and complications are keys to achieving all of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.

There was a palpable sense after Brown’s speech that the energy level was raised in the room. Shortly after, Her Excellency Dr. Hajiya Turai Umaru Yar’Adua, the first lady of Nigeria, took the stage and began delivering her prepared remarks for a maternal health panel. Until this speech, many of the first ladies understandably delivered their remarks exactly as written, not looking up much at the audience. While many of these speeches were very informative, they did not do much to really involve the audience.

The Nigerian first lady’s speech started in much the same manner for a couple minutes. Then, she looked up, scanned the audience, adjusted her clothes and began to speak off the cuff.  Dr. Yar’Adua began talking passionately about a project she has supported that involves distribution of small, three-wheel ambulances that can maneuver through narrow roads (and non-existent) roads to the rural areas of Nigeria. She said that many pregnant women do not go to health clinics because their husbands disallow it. But the beauty of these ambulances is that quality maternal care can come to them. The ambulance is parked in villages and pregnant women are given “mama kits” that includes supplements and information on safe maternal care. A midwife and a nurse travel with the doctor in these ambulances – which the first lady says are about one-fifth the cost of a full ambulance we see on our streets.

At the moment the First Lady’s staff finally got the pictures of the ambulances up on the video screen, and the First Lady was reinvigorated even further, I dropped any cynicism I had about the value of this Summit. The First Ladies and leaders from all sectors of the global health field came to share stories and ideas such as the three-wheel ambulance in Nigeria. Effectiveness in global health programs are correctly measured by quality data indicators, and we here in Washington D.C. are constantly pouring over them. However, I think and hope that the first ladies connected to each other with personal stories of their work and now are more motivated than before to return to their countries with an even stronger will to use their political and social power to improve health in their countries in a time of economic recession.

   – Vince Blaser

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

African First Ladies Convene in L.A. To Tackle Health Issues

When California First Lady Maria Shriver told a crowd of about 300 gathered in Los Angeles Monday that being a first lady is a "full-time job," the sentiment was understood all too well by a select few in the audience. The first ladies of Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia, along with the Kenyan prime minister's wife and a delegation from Gambia traveled thousands of miles not just to walk up a Hollywood-style red carpet and mix with celebrities, but to leverage an unprecedented gathering to improve the health of the African people.

Day one of the two-day African First Ladies Health Summit hosted by U.S. Doctors for Africa and African Synergy was marked by great ceremony under an unseasonably scorching Southern Californian sun. Indeed, the mere gathering of spouses of so many African leaders under one roof with large foundations, private companies and NGOs such as the Global Health Council was a success in and of itself for a number of reasons. First, the first ladies presence in the United States in front of the national and L.A. media put the major health issues facing Africa front-and-center at a time of belt tightening around the world. Second, no matter what the tangible outcomes of the summit, the gathering will force dialogue among both the first ladies and leaders in the global health community – which should translate into more collaboration after the summit.

All that being said, day two of the summit today will be the most critical. On Monday, the First Ladies and other panelists who spoke did an excellent job of laying out the health issues in their countries and the African continent. However, the panels and sessions today will dig deeper into the issues. One such panel, co-hosted by the Global Health Council and ONE, will be examining the impact of U.S. HIV/AIDS and malaria programs on maternal health. Acting USAID Administrator Alonzo Fulgham, African Union Ambassador to the U.S. Amina Salum Ali, President's Malaria Initiative Coordinator Adm. Timothy Ziemer and Assistant U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Michele Moloney-Kitts will I'm sure give a great overview of HIV testing for pregnant women, prevention of vertical transmission and distribution of bed nets to women. I'm hoping that the first ladies not only find this and other panels informative, but press the experts that will be on hand tomorrow on forging new and improved partnerships to tackle these major health problems and achieve the MDGs. I also am hoping the first ladies will push for joint accountability – from the first ladies to be strong champions for the health of their people and for donors to deliver on their promises in tough economic times.

Monday I was inspired because their gathering. Today, I hope to be inspired by the depth of their determination.

– Vince Blaser

For more on the Global Health Council, visit

Photos by Stephen Osman
Bookmark and Share

African First Ladies Summit

Twelve African First Ladies joined together with delegations and celebrities to address health issues in each of the First Ladies countries. From top left to bottom right: Ida Odinga wife of Kenyan prime minister, First Ladies Laraba Tandja of Niger, Penehupifo Pohamba of Namibia, Thandiwe Banda of Zambia, Maria da Luz Dai Guebuza of Mozambique, Mathato Sarah Mosisili of Lesotho, Sia Nyama Koroma of Sierra Leone, Adelcia Barreto Pires of Cape Verde, Chantal Biya of Cameroon, Ana Paula Dos Santos of Angola, Queen Inkhosikati LaMbikiza of Swaziland and Turai Umaru Yar'Adua of Nigeria. Photo by Stephen Osman

The African First Ladies Summit is being held in Los Angeles to address health-care and girls' education. First Ladies from 15 nations – Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zambia will be attending the event. The agenda includes the promotion of their work in Africa and further engagement with Hollywood and business community. The Global Health Council is one of the sponsors of this event.

Vince Blaser, the Council’s policy communications coordinator, is in LA for this momentous occasion. Read his daily blog:

Day 1: April 20 The First Ladies Convene
Day 2: April 21 Sarah Brown Brings the House Down, First Ladies Spurred to Action

Bookmark and Share