By Elisa Baring, Senior Director, Public Affairs and Joy Ruwodo, Director, Public Affairs
African First Ladies are organizing to provide coordination and guidance to help lead an effective response to COVID-19 across the continent. First Ladies can offer trusted advice and encouragement – leading by example and communicating clear, comprehensive directives, they can truly help a nation during difficult times.
First Ladies have played an important role in addressing public health problems before the current pandemic. In 2014, First Ladies helped respond to the Ebola outbreak across Western Africa. With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting countries across the globe, First Ladies are again positioned to play an important leadership role.
“During the Ebola crisis we witnessed First Ladies break through miscommunication and fear to help their populations understand the disease and seek timely care,” said Cora Neumann, Founder of the GFLA. “This COVID outbreak is moving and changing quickly, and First Ladies across the continent are working with health authorities and regional leaders to share trusted public health information and services, address the undue burden and risk the outbreak is placing on women, and protect frontline health workers.”
The END Fund is partnering with the Global First Ladies Alliance (GFLA) to support the Offices of African First Ladies in their efforts to respond to the mounting crises surrounding COVID-19. The true scale of the problem in Africa is still not known, but a recent study by the WHO concluded up to 190,000 people on the continent could die in the first year of the pandemic alone. Engaging with local leaders while the pandemic is in the early stages on the continent is crucial to making a long-lasting impact.
On Tuesday, April 28th, the GFLA and the END Fund held a virtual convening with senior technical advisors from the offices of eight First Ladies – Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe.
During the meeting, technical advisors received a comprehensive overview of the spread and impact of COVID-19 in Africa from Prof. Wafaa El-Sadr, Director of ICAP at Columbia University and a detailed brief on the disease’s effects on vulnerable groups from Dr. Wilmot James from Columbia University’s Department of Political Science and Pediatrics.
The discussion focused on:
- the need for clear and consistent messaging,
- public-private partnerships,
- strengthened health systems,
- protection of healthcare workers,
- alternative education models,
- food programs,
- the continuation of ongoing health services,
- and additional measures to respond to the increase of gender-based violence.
It was clear that balancing each of the First Ladies’ ongoing priorities, along with new COVID-19 priorities, was high on the radars of many offices. Several representatives highlighted the need to maintain ongoing programming that their communities relied on (such as food security and safe hygiene practices) while developing clear messaging about the pandemic.
Message from the First lady of Ghana @Rebakufo on the precautions to be taken to fight #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/iF7nBPpTZL
— OAFLAD (@OAFLA) May 1, 2020
As “mothers of their nations” First Ladies can inspire and take action that will help to protect both loved ones and communities at large. By partnering with GFLA, the END Fund is helping to ensure that First Ladies are equipped with the information needed to have clear and comprehensive directives that will mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable communities.