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First Ladies of Africa Call for Greater Effort Against AIDS

  • Gabi Menezes

Many of Africa's first ladies have gathered in Burkina Faso to help women afflicted with AIDS on the continent. Thirteen first ladies attended ceremonies, Wednesday. One of them, Rwanda's first lady, Mrs. Jeanette Kagame, urged her colleagues to do more in the battle against AIDS.

In a rose-colored traditional Rwandan costume, Mrs. Kagame made an impassioned plea at the second African First Lady Summit.

Mrs. Kagame asked her colleagues to assist United Nations efforts in combating HIV/AIDS, and to take responsibility to prevent the epidemic from spreading.

The meeting was driven by the concerns of women like Mrs. Kagame, who has promoted high profile anti-AIDS campaigns in Rwanda.

Mrs. Chantal Compaore of Burkina Fasso, who hosted the summit, made conflict prevention the other main theme of the conference. Mrs. Compaore connected the issues of AIDS and war, saying that HIV spreads more quickly in conflict areas.

The first ladies also hope to have an action plan for peace in Africa. However, some analysts question the effectiveness of initiatives promoted by the first ladies. The Ghana-based director of an organization called Women in Law and Development in Africa, Dorcas Coker-Appiah, questions whether projects begun by first ladies ever have a lasting impact.

"While some work is done while their husbands are in power, the organizations tended to collapse as soon as their husbands are no longer in power, which indicates they were not well established really," she said. "It has also emerged that projects taken under these first ladies usually was on a partisan basis as women who did not belong to the husband's party did not benefit from the project."

However, Mrs. Coker-Appiah did say the summits improved the image of African women abroad by showing their concern for the people of Africa.