First Ladies of Africa

First Ladies
The Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS Creates Partners to Make 2030 the Year When the Pandemic Is No More
by Aaron Goodwin

From left to right: Dr. Deborah Birx, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Director, PEPFAR; H.E. Dr. Christine Kaseba Sata, First Lady of Zambia; H.E. Madame Hinda Deby Itno, First Lady of the Republic of Chad and OAFLA President, and Namal Nawana, CEO of Alere, Inc. Photo courtesy Alere
From left to right: Dr. Deborah Birx, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Director, PEPFAR; H.E. Dr. Christine Kaseba Sata, First Lady of Zambia; H.E. Madame Hinda Deby Itno, First Lady of the Republic of Chad and OAFLA President, and Namal Nawana, CEO of Alere, Inc. Photo courtesy Alere

In the fight against HIV/AIDS, globally and specifically in the continent of Africa, the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), their affiliates, and partners are determined to eliminate, if not effectively cripple the pandemic affecting countless lives worldwide.

Driven by solidarity and social accountability, OAFLA and its affiliates are determined to defeat a common enemy. OAFLA remains vigilant and resilient at the forefront of the fight against HIV/AIDS, gender inequality, and maternal and child mortality.

With over seventy percent of those living with HIV/AIDS concentrated in Africa, an aggressive, comprehensive program to combat and eradicate the presence and consequences of HIV/AIDS is needed.

On September 23, at a press conference and working lunch at the Ford Building in New York, OAFLA, its partners, and affiliates from both the private and public sector gathered to reaffirm their commitment of continual progress, significant achievement, and expansion of their goals and objectives.

Representatives from OAFLA, UNAIDS, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), Alere, as well as South African celebrity singer, activist Yvonne Chaka Chaka, were all present in allegiance with OAFLA’s stratagem.

The underlining theme: to intensify and expand successful strategies already implemented in the fight against HIV/AIDS, particularly by creating and/or maintaining transparency, advocacy, resource mobilization and partnerships, through networking and the exchange of vital information between healthcare agencies and those who matter most, the people.

“We should intensify our collaboration with UNAIDS at the global, regional and country level to mobilize our communities to end the AIDS epidemic on our continent,” Her Excellency, Madame Hinda Deby Itno, First Lady of the Republic of Chad and OAFLA President, said. She continued, “African First Ladies have reaffirmed our commitment today to help end the epidemic of AIDS by 2030, eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and increase access to HIV testing, care and treatment for children and adolescents. And as solidarity among partner organizations is of paramount importance, we have pledged to work closely with various UN agencies, the African Union Commission, in-country and international development agencies and the private sector.”

Initially comprised of thirty-seven members, OAFLA convened in July 2002 in Geneva at a meeting facilitated by UNAIDS and the International AIDS Trust (IAT).

Today, OAFLA has more than forty African First Ladies as its active members. Each one is the head of her own national chapter in her respective country. Their united focus is specific to HIV/AIDS, cervical cancer, syphilis, malaria, maternal and child healthcare, and empowering women and children.

From this historic gathering, an organization of the viceregents for Africa’s most vulnerable people, women and children, infected and affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, was established.

The members of OAFLA are mainly the wives of chief political leaders of African nations; others are appointees for African nations that don’t have First Ladies. All of them have chosen to use their socio-political position as a catalyst for positive, long-term change.

OAFLA has evolved from a think tank to an institution capable of providing continent-wide leadership necessary to increase awareness and lobby for advancement in nearly all sectors of typical life in the region.

Leading by example, one of OAFLA’s methods of preventing and isolating the spread of HIV/AIDS and its projected demise is largely through female empowerment and advocating for gender equality.

Along with the induction of new members and affiliates, OAFLA has also expanded its focus from addressing the symptoms of the HIV/AIDS crisis to its root causes, poverty and gender inequality in the region.

OAFLA’s permanent secretariat is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

First Ladies’ Focus
Some of OAFLA’s main goals are to advocate for increased awareness on the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, the mobilization of resources, the contribution to the development of leadership, and for permanent, sustainable action to improve maternal and child healthcare.

The objectives of OAFLA are as follows: to strengthen the capacity of members of the organization to bring efficient responses against HIV/AIDS and the inherent issues of maternal, neonatal and child health; to reduce the stigmatization and discrimination of people infected and/or affected by HIV and AIDS; mobilize partners and financial and material resources at the national, continental and international levels in order to facilitate the expansion of the response to the pandemic of HIV/AIDS; advocate for the implementation of efficient prevention and treatment strategies and psychosocial support for HIV/AIDS, as well as to ensure the monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of activities of OAFLA.

Of all the objectives the most significant is OAFLA’s narrowed focus on educating, testing, treating, and evaluating women, especially those who may be pregnant, and vulnerable children, and providing comprehensive healthcare services. Part of the services for those who have tested positive is to provide access to antiretroviral medication, prenatal, and post-natal care, especially during the breastfeeding stage so as not to spread HIV/AIDS to future generations and undermine established achievements in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé said, “UNAIDS launched the 90-90-90 campaign to support country efforts in ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030.” He continued, “To reach this goal, we have to continue our strategic alliance with OAFLA and make sure that all people, particularly women know their HIV status and are able to protect themselves and their families.”

Why OAFLA’s Initiative Is Needed Now
Out of the world’s population affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa, seventy-eight percent of them are women. With pregnancy, prenatal and post-natal

Namal Nawana, CEO of Alere, Inc. Photo courtesy Alere
Namal Nawana, CEO of Alere, Inc. Photo courtesy Alere

healthcare concerns and stigma about HIV/AIDS, especially in rural areas, education and testing for HIV/AIDS from the root and building blocks of familial life is imperative.

These numbers, as well as progress already made in the continent and worldwide, can fluctuate exponentially without proper intervention and leadership. The goals and objectives of OAFLA are brilliantly clear and pertinent to seeking and upholding a viable solution to this long-term health crisis.

Her Excellency, Jennette Kagame, First Lady of Rwanda and Vice President of OAFLA said, “Our immediate focus should be about the 19 million people who do not know their HIV status. All successes we have achieved will be reversed if we do not address this issue.”

OAFLA’s Newest Supporter
The working lunch was sponsored by Alere, one of OAFLA’s recent partners in the private sector against HIV/AIDS, syphilis and other ailments plaguing the continent.

According to Alere CEO Namal Nawana, “Alere is the world leader in rapid HIV screening. Alere’s innovative diagnostic products are revolutionizing HIV chronic disease management at the point-of-care. From screening to monitoring and co-morbidities, Alere is at the forefront of HIV prevention strategy. Alere’s portfolio of diagnostic products makes it possible to manage, monitor and follow-up HIV infected patients. Leveraging the power of real-time data, clinicians and healthcare workers in the field can enable faster therapeutic decisions that lead to improved health outcomes — and ultimately help individuals live healthier lives —no matter where they are.”

Alere has made an unyielding commitment to OAFLA’s goals; as Nawana states, “We are honored to support Africa’s First Ladies in their renewed effort to reduce maternal and child mortality, end mother-to-child HIV infections, and work towards the elimination of congenital syphilis.”

He continued, “It’s an important part of Alere’s commitment to helping people know their HIV status and linking infected individuals to life-saving antiretroviral therapy.”

To prove its level of support and dedication, Alere announced they will initially donate 100,000 HIV/Syphilis Duo Rapid tests to countries in Africa to support OAFLA’s efforts to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS and syphilis, to help pregnant women and adolescent girls know their HIV status and reduce child mortality in the continent.

OAFLA’s Legacy
With OAFLA creating, maintaining, and expanding their unified front for improved healthcare for women and children, female empowerment, decreased child mortality rates, and challenging anything that threatens their goals and objectives to foster a generation free from HIV/AIDS, the future is increasingly growing more radiant and promising.

The Director General of IPPF, Tewodros Melesse, noted, “Women across the continent still do not have the power to make personal decisions that many of us take for granted.”

She continued, “We have to make sure that they are able to decide when to have children and the right to determine their futures. I certainly don’t want my daughter to have the same life as my grandmother when it comes to the empowerment of women.”

Taking on the role of global citizens, OAFLA realizes social accountability and the courage to fight against injustices and diseases that threaten the stability of a nation, down to its individual citizens starts from the home, the foundation of any community.

As we are all inhabitants of the same planet, underneath the same sky, we all have a cause, a struggle and purpose to unite to overcome those challenges together, as a people.

Aaron Goodwin is a freelance writer, blogger, and poet. He currently resides in Brooklyn.