For many years, women in Africa have been dying from HIV, AIDS and pregnancy-related causes. It has been estimated that an average of 450 women die every day from pregnancy-related causes. The unfortunate aspect of this development is that more than half of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.
Worried about this disturbing trend and other health-related problems on the continent, African First Ladies came together to form an association to provide a collective voice for the continent’s most vulnerable people.
Known as the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), it was established to provide a collective voice for women and children infected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa.
The First Ladies joined forces to use their capabilities to improve the lives of victims through advocacy, social interventions and resource mobilisation.
When OAFLA was established 13 years ago, the main focus was on the elimination of HIV/AIDS on the continent, but now it has a broader framework that includes factors that have an impact on the quality of life of women and children.
Activities of OAFLA
Current activities carried out by OAFLA include programmes towards the elimination of HIV among children and keeping their mothers alive, actions for maternal, neonatal and child health, as well as an adolescents’ “All – In” campaign.
The organisations also contributes to the national effort in respective countries in controlling breast and cervical cancer, enhancing organisational visibility, organisational learning and stakeholders’ commitment, as well as ensuring programme and financial sustainability.
The decision by OAFLA to promote maternal, neonatal and child health has been mainly justified because of many women dying from pregnancy-related causes on the continent.
To OAFLA, the well-being of the mother is key to ensuring the survival of the child because it has been found out that children who lose their mothers are less likely to celebrate their second birthday.
The origins of OAFLA can be traced to 2002, when 37 African First Ladies converged on Geneva at a meeting facilitated by UNAIDS and the International AIDS Trust (IAT) to deliberate on how they could help with public education and other social interventions, especially targeted at children infected by HIV/AIDS.
Since then, it has transformed itself from a fora of ideas to an institution capable of providing the continent-wide leadership needed to bring about change in people’s lives. With its permanent secretariat in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, OAFLA has moved from addressing the symptoms of the HIV/ AIDS crisis to the root causes of poverty and the overall inequality of women in the region.
The mission of OAFLA is to advocate effective policies and strategies towards the elimination of HIV and AIDS as a public health threat, reduce maternal and child mortality and empower women and children through strategic partnerships in the spirit of solidarity.
OAFLA’s vision is to see an Africa free from HIV and AIDS, maternal and child mortality and a continent where women and children are empowered to enjoy equal opportunities.
The organisation’s objective is to reduce stigma and discrimination against people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS and increase their participation in fighting the pandemic.
It also mobilises stakeholder, financial and operational resources at the local, national, regional and international levels to facilitate an expanded response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and advocate the expansion of effective strategies for the prevention of HIV/AIDS and for effective HIV/AIDS treatment.
Structure of OAFLA
The OAFLA General Assembly (GA) is the highest decision-making body of the organisation and meets twice a year on the sidelines of the African Union Heads of State and Government Summit.
The Steering Committee (SC), which represents member First Ladies’ offices from the five regions of the continent, namely, Northern, Eastern, Western, Central and Southern Africa, are elected for a two-year term with the mandate to co-ordinate activities undertaken in respective regions.
At present, the SC comprises the following countries: Northern Africa, Algeria; Eastern Africa, Rwanda and Tanzania; Western Africa, Senegal and Ghana; Central Africa, Chad and Congo, and Southern Africa, Zambia and Mozambique.
The OAFLA Secretariat, accountable to the Steering Committee, has served the organisation and its members as a liaison and coordination office with the AU and its Commission, UN agencies and other organisations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, since 2012.
The Secretariat organises OAFLA General Assembly meetings, coordinates the activities of member states and liaises with partner agencies.
OAFLA has clear goals and objectives that support member countries’ efforts and the First Ladies of Africa achieve their goals through advocacy, resource mobilisation, establishing strategic partnerships within the context of their legal and cultural frameworks and through experience sharing.
Ghana’s First Lady and the Ghana Chapter
As a founder member OAFLA, the Ghana Chapter focuses on efforts to achieve national and global targets in the prevention of HIV from mother-to-child and empower women to take charge of their reproductive health needs.
This is done by creating awareness, providing prevention education, as well as health screening outreaches in order to prevent new infections, reduce the rate at which diseases are transmitted to children, including mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and improve the reproductive health needs of mothers.
At the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of OAFLA organised on the sidelines of the AU Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, in June this year, Ghana’s First Lady, Mrs Lordina Mahama, emerged the new President of OAFLA after a keenly contested poll.
Before her election, the First Lady represented the West African region on the OAFLA Steering Committee for two years as the deputy to Senegal.
She took over the OAFLA Presidency from the First Lady of Chad, Madam Hinda Derby Itno, who congratulated Mrs Mahama on working hard for Ghana in particular and the continent as a whole.
The First Lady of Malawi, Mrs Gertrude Mutharika, also clinched the Vice President position and pledged to assist Mrs Mahama in all her endeavours to raise the flag of OAFLA to higher levels.
Commitment and priorities of new President
Mrs Mahama expressed her appreciation to the organisation for the confidence and the honour reposed in her by her peers as the new President.
Mrs Mahama, who is expected to be sworn into office in Addis Ababa this month, called on all African First Ladies to support her in order to move the organisation to higher levels and said as a founder member of OAFLA, Ghana was fully committed to it’s mission and vision.
As the First Lady and OAFLA representative for West Africa for the past two years, she ensured that her priorities revolved around attaining the objectives of OAFLA’s strategic plan of reversing the trends of HIV and AIDS and eliminating mother-to-child transmission, among others.
“My priorities as the President of OAFLA will be to accelerate the global and African plans towards the elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2017 and keep their mothers alive”, Mrs Mahama stated after her election as the new leader of the organisation.
This move, she is sure, will lead to the elimination of vertical transmission of HIV to babies in every member state by 2020.
The First Lady will also advocate as a UNAIDS Ambassador for “Early Infant Diagnosis of every HIV exposed baby, Anti-retroviral Treatment” for every HIV positive child aged zero to 14 years as well as support orphans and vulnerable children.
“My expectation is that the results will lead to the consistent reduction in AIDS-related deaths among children, reduction in neonatal and child mortality, healthy and educated orphans and the achievement of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs)”, says Mrs Mahama.
Now that Mrs Mahama is in the chair as OAFLA President, she says she will break new ground and consolidate the achievements so far made by her predecessor.