Monday, July 6, 2009

Getting Health on the G-8 Agenda

ROME, Italy -- Judging by the numbers of people I saw frolicking in Trevi Fountain and on the Spanish Steps as I arrived here yesterday on a sun-drenched summer afternoon, you would not think the industrialized countries of the world are in the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. But that is exactly what will be on the minds of the heads of state of the G-8 when they come here later this week for their annual attempt to find some common ground for making the world a better place not only for the rich countries of the world, but also for the poor.

See the G-8 L'Aquila website at

And that is why I am here - - to add the voice of the Global Health Council to other representatives of civil society, largely European, to try to keep global health from getting lost in the many other pressing issues of the day, such as the recession, Iran, climate change, food security in Africa, Middle East peace and trade.

It will not be easy: In the Civil Society Meeting that begins here in Rome on Monday, immediately preceding the Summit which begins on Wednesday, health is hard to find on the agenda. The meeting is comprised entirely of four roundtables on Food, World Economy and Finance, Climate Change and something called "Public Goods" which, presumably, might include something about health. But that is not at all clear, and my job here is to ensure that global health -- and particularly reproductive, maternal and child health - get a fair hearing as access to these health areas -- and lack thereof -- have enormous effects on the poor's ability to make progress in the other areas of concern to this G-8 Summit.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mere Rain Cannot Extinguish the Flame of Candlelight Memorial in Haiti

The opening ceremony of the 2009 International AIDS Candlelight Memorial on May 16 in front of the spectacular ruins of Sans Souci Palace in Milot, Haiti was rained out but was still a great success when it was moved to nearby Cap Haitïen, to a dinner following the event that had already been scheduled.

The festivities started when Haitian Prime Minister Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis arrived at Cap Haitïen Airport in the afternoon and drove to Milot, about 12 kilometers away. She appeared before an enthusiastic crowd of local people at an event promoting the importance of getting tested for HIV. The rains started just before the opening ceremony and, when the rains had continued for over an hour, the program was moved to the dinner in Cap Haitien.

Abbott Fund, one of the donors of the Candlelight Memorial, announced that it was donating 500,000 rapid HIV test kits as the kick-off of a nationwide HIV testing campaign. The testing initiative is a cooperative partnership between the Haitian government, the U.S. government, the Abbott Fund and Haitian health implementing organizations.

The candle-lighting ceremony took place after the dinner, when Prime Minister Pierre-Louis and representatives of the two sponsors of the event — Vice President Kathryn Guare of the Global Health Council and Dr. Myrna Eustache of Promoteurs Objectif Zero Sida (POZ) — joined people living with HIV and AIDS to light the candles to remember those lost to AIDS, to advocate for improved programs and policies and to celebrate the courage of Haitians living with the disease.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Global Health Council and POZ Prepare for AIDS Candlelight Memorial Event

Five members of the Global Health Council are on the ground in northern Haiti preparing furiously for tonight’s grand opening ceremony of the 2009 International AIDS Candlelight Memorial in Milot in front of the Sans Souci Palace, a World Heritage site and the former home of King Henri Christophe between 1804 and 1820.

The Council’s main partner in organizing the event is POZ, Promoteurs Objectif Zéro Sida, a leading Haitian non-governmental organization that provides prevention and counseling services around the country. But many other governmental and non-governmental organizations are also very involved in bringing needed attention to HIV/AIDS and Haiti’s success in dealing with it.

The Council chose Haiti as the site of the opening ceremony of the world’s oldest and premier AIDS awareness raising event principally because of Haiti’s recent progress against HIV/AIDS, particularly in urban areas, and because of POZ’s outstanding record as a country coordinator of the annual event in Haiti over the last 10 years.

The activities begin this afternoon with a march that will include thousands of Haitians and culminate in a symbolic lighting of the candle this evening with a spectacularly lit Sans Souci Palace as the backdrop. Many other activities are being held today leading up to the opening ceremony including HIV counseling and testing, which also serves as the kick-off for a national testing campaign aiming to increase significantly the number of Haitians who know their HIV status.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The 2009 International AIDS Candlelight Memorial

The 2009 International AIDS Candlelight Memorial drew thousands of people to more than 1,000 memorials in 100 countries. The Global Health Council, along with the Promoteurs Objectif Zero Sida, hosted the 26th annual International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Opening Ceremony in Cap Haitian, Haiti on May 16, 2009. The Candlelight Memorial began in 1983 in San Francisco and has since spread throughout the world.

Bound by the theme of “Together, We Are The Solution,” the Candlelight Memorial reinforces our dedication to the cause of HIV/AIDS prevention and education. The Opening Ceremony highlighted Haiti's progress despite its challenges, and promoted the critical partnership between government and civil society worldwide. The event will began with a march through the town of Milot, just outside of Cap Haitian, and ended with the ceremony and lighting of the official candle.

Kathryn Guare, vice president of member resources, and David Olson, policy communications director at the Global Health Council, share their experiences of the events leading up to the opening ceremony and the event itself.

Saturday, May 16: Preparing for Candlelight
Sunday, May 17: The Candlelight Memorial

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

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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

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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
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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

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