Wednesday, April 29, 2009

African First Ladies Health Summit Meets in Los Angeles

"You as First Ladies are powerful champions for the causes you support. Powerful role models, motivators and catalysts for action. Your work is formidable. If we can also harness the efforts of civil society and clinicians to support you, you will be unstoppable."
- Sarah Brown

On April 20th and 21st, 14 First Ladies from across Africa met in Los Angeles, California to discuss and publicize prominent health issues in Africa. Organized by U.S. Doctors for Africa (USDFA) and African Synergy, the two day summit focused on maternal health, malaria, gender inequalities in education, and HIV/AIDS related issues.

Although the meeting tackled a wide range of topics, the focus was unquestionably on women's health and the likelihood of achieving Millennium Development Goal #5, reducing maternal mortality by 75% by 2015. Sarah Brown, wife of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, spoke at the event and emphasized the importance of maternal health care, stating that "a health system that works for mothers, works also for early infant care, for vaccinations, for infection control, for blood transfusions, for emergency surgery for every member of the community. Build for mothers and you build for everyone." The 14 First Ladies that met in L.A. emphasized the importance of South-South cooperation and finding answers to complicated African problems through dialogue. By sharing both their own countries policy and programmes, as well as holding one another accountable for achieving Millennium Development Goals, the First Ladies summit looks promising as a catalyst for action.

Los Angeles may seem an unlikely venue for a summit promoting African health, but the high celebrity turnout and the First Ladies fashion choices drew a horde of media attention and helped to spread the importance of addressing African health issues worldwide. Agreeing to strengthen their leadership roles in their respective nations and work with U.S. based health experts, the First Ladies departed with a commitment to launch new efforts in health care. USDFA Chairman, Ted Alemayhu explained how "empowering Africa's First Ladies is an innovative approach to bettering the lives of Millions of Africans." South-South cooperation and the pairing of African First Ladies with U.S. experts and organizations creates ongoing partnerships and the potential to achieve change.

You can read Sarah Brown's entire keynote address online, at

Pictures from the First Ladies Health Summit can be viewed at provides more information on maternal mortality and progress toward achieving MDG5

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