Other speakers included Dr. Sidiki Kalokoh, Commissioner for Social Affairs at the African Union, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA and a representative of the Executive Director of UNAIDS. All the speakers commended the African First Ladies for their hard work in the health sector in particular, both in their home countries and within OAFLA, itself. In one refrain, all the speakers called for an expanded role for OAFLA beyond, HIV/AIDS. This call was also echoed by H.E. President John Dramani Mahama who stated that the African Union must give this expanded role for African First ladies serious thought because African First Ladies have played key pivotal roles in development under the auspices of OAFLA and in their home countries that have impacted the lives of many segments of the population.
H.E. Sia Nyama Koroma delivered a statement on sexual and reproductive health in Sierra Leone with a focus on adolescent HIV/AIDS. She outlined the gender dimensions of the Ebola Virus Disease and its disproportionate impact on women and young girls which was directly related to their unequal access to health care services. The First Lady then explained that adolescents’ needs have to be addressed because they make up significant percentage of the global population, quoting several reliable sources and authentic reports that assert that the following: young people aged 10-24 years make up 1.8 billion of the world’s population, 9 out of 10 of them live in less developing countries which includes most sub-Saharan countries and 1.2 billion of the world’s population are adolescents ranging from ages 10-19 years, making them 18% of our global population. The First Lady stated that out of Sierra Leone’s almost 6 million population, 30% are young people between the ages of 15-35. She also asserted that our national governments have a huge responsibility towards this growing young population because they represent an untapped resource waiting to be harnessed from which our countries can reap a huge dividend if they are harnessed properly, based on findings from UNFPA.
H.E. the First Lady then proceeded to outline the status of HIV/AIDS in Sierra Leone and referred to the co-relation between high HIV prevalence and early sexual activity. She presented statistics from Sierra Leone’s National AIDS Secretariat confirming a drop in condom use by adolescent girls, leaving them more vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmissible infections. She alluded to rise in teenage pregnancy during the 14 month Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone which confirms the lack of condom use by adolescents although, the inability to access family planning services during the outbreak could also have been a contributing factor in this case. H.E. Sia Nyama Koroma mentioned the launching of 4,000 Duo HIV/Syphilis Rapid test kits that had been donated to Sierra Leone by Alere, a partner to OAFLA. She announced that Alere has donated an additional 10,000 Duo HIV/Syphilis Rapid test kits to Sierra Leone following their meeting at the recent African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia earlier on in February, 2016. She stated that these rapid test kits will contribute towards saving lives of mothers and children as well as the adolescent population in particular.
The First Lady then catalogued all her activities and initiatives relating to HIV/AIDs in Sierra Leone since her inception as First Lady in 2007. Many of these activities included advocacy work in collaboration with the National AIDS Secretariat and donor partners on the prevention of HIV/AIDs and against the stigmatisation of persons living with HIV/AIDs and the donation of much needed supplies to HIV/AIDs mothers. She mentioned her support to the Network of HIV Positives in Sierra Leone and the Voice of Women, a group of HIV positive women. The First Lady has laid out her work on early marriage and teenage pregnancy, all of which are geared towards ensuring that the girl child and adolescent girls in particular complete primary and secondary education, thereby bridging the gender inequality gap in access to education.
In her concluding words, H.E. the First Lady called on her colleague African First Ladies and members of OAFLA, to live up to our commitment to the international community by working closely with these institutions to achieve zero HIV transmission by 2030. She stated in that ‘this is the time to act’. She implored the African First Ladies to work steadfastly within OAFLA and in our home countries to ensure that they advocate for stronger national policies and strategies that will place adolescent sexual and reproductive health and HIV in the adolescent segment of our population, firmly on national political agendas. She quoted UNAIDs’s aim to ‘spur concrete action and mobilise resources’ that will lead our countries to zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths.
Following the opening of the conference, a State Banquet was held on 10th February, 2016 at which the African First Ladies were guests of honour. It was during this dinner that the Government of Ghana launched an Ending Child Marriage Initiative. The African First Ladies also opened the OAFLA Ghana exhibition which depicted the achievements of OAFLA Member States in their countries under the leadership of the First Ladies. The high point of the side events was the visit to Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and Museum. H.E. the First Lady of Sierra Leone was asked to lay a wreath on behalf of her colleagues and was joined by the First Ladies of Kenya and Mali who also laid wreaths. H.E. Sia Nyama Koroma, First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone and H.E. Margaret Kenyatta, First Lady of the Republic of Ghana joined their host and colleague, the First Lady of Ghana at the closing ceremony of the conference on 12th February, 2016.
H.E. Sia Nyama Koroma took time off to visit the Dialysis Centre at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital which is affiliated with the University of Ghana. The aim of the visit was to fully understand the challenges in running a Dialysis Centre.
The First Lady’s delegation included Madam Finda Koroma, Legal Counsel and Technical Adviser, Mrs Florence Katta, Mr. Manfred Peters, Ms. Rugiatu Bangura and security personnel. Ms. Fiona Kai-Ka from UNFPA was also part of the delegation.