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21 Apr 2009 08:01
A group of African first ladies began a two-day meeting in Los Angeles on Monday to forge US partnerships to try to improve health and education of women and girls in African communities afflicted by HIV/Aids.
The wives of the presidents and prime ministers of Kenya, Nigeria, Angola, Zambia, Cameroon and 10 other nations teamed up with US health experts, nonprofit groups and a clutch of celebrities to promote their work.
“Nowhere before in the United States has such a large group of African first ladies come together to talk as one,” Ted Alemayhu, founder of the Los Angeles-based US Doctors for Africa, told a news conference.
Hollywood actresses Diane Lane, Maria Bello, Robin Wright Penn and Camryn Manheim were among the celebrity women who attended an opening day luncheon.
Singer Natalie Cole, daughter of the late Nat King Cole, will perform at a fund-raiser by oil company ExxonMobil, while Sharon Stone is due to moderate a panel aimed at transforming words into action.
The meeting hopes to raise awareness in Hollywood of various projects in Africa to supply clean water, fight malaria and combat HIV/Aids.
The charitable group of 22 first ladies was formed in 2002 and is called African Synergy Against Aids and Suffering. It was set up to highlight the vital role of women in education and healthcare in the world’s poorest continent.
Women in sub-Saharan Africa account for 57% of HIV infections and young African women are three times more likely to become infected than men of comparable age in the region, according to a 2006 United Nations Development Programme report.
“As an African woman, this is really exciting and unprecedented,” said CSI: Miami actress Megalyn Echikunwoke, whose father is Nigerian.
“For me this is really about finding out how we can support the first ladies.”
Oil giant Chevron, one of the meeting’s sponsors, announced a $5-million contribution to help fight malaria in Angola as part of its outreach programmes in Africa.
Sarah Brown, wife of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, will deliver a keynote address on Tuesday, while former US first lady Laura Bush will make a video address.
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