15 African First Ladies Meet in Los Angeles To Promote Health, Development Initiatives
First ladies from 15 African countries met earlier this week at the African First Ladies Health Summit in Los Angeles to discuss efforts to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria; improve nutrition for children and pregnant women; and promote education for girls, the AP/Google.com reports.
The first ladies met with representatives from several groups -- including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, RAND, USAID, the World Bank and the World Health Organization -- to discuss ways to improve health and development infrastructure in Africa and improve access to inexpensive interventions, such as insecticide-treated nets. The summit was co-sponsored by U.S. Doctors for Africa and African Synergy Against AIDS and Suffering, a group formed by 22 African first ladies (Mohajer, AP/Google.com, 4/22).
Melanne Verveer, U.S. ambassador for Global Women's Issues, said the Obama administration would support efforts to fight HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria and other infectious diseases and promote other issues, such as maternal health care. Ted Alemayhu, founder of U.S. Doctors for Africa and an immigrant from Ethiopia, said he hopes the summit will engage U.S. residents in African health and development issues. "People are not paying too much attention anymore because of the global economy, a number of other things," Alemayhu said, adding, "Even with that challenge, we still have to bring the issue of health care that Africa is suffering from on the global scale." Jean Stephane Biatcha, executive director of African Synergy, added, "I am sure that after these two days of meetings, people will know more about what they do and we will surely see people more interested in one or two projects that they intend to carry out" (O'Sullivan, VOA News, 4/21).
Gery Ryan, a senior behavioral scientist at RAND, said that African first ladies are "probably one of the largest untapped influences and influencers in these places." Sia Nyama Koroma, first lady of Sierra Leone, added, "As first ladies, people listen to us, people want to see us, the crowd goes with us" (Zavis, Los Angeles Times, 4/22). Cora Neumann, an organizer for U.S. Doctors for Africa, added, "First ladies have a unique role. They exist outside the political realm to some degree but have a very powerful role in the communities" (AP/Google.com, 4/22).
In addition to the first ladies from 15 countries -- including Angola, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia -- representatives from six other African nations, including South Africa, attended the summit. California first lady Maria Shriver and several U.S. celebrities also attended the meeting, VOA News reports (VOA News, 4/21).