Hope for Women and Girls

The Huffington Post

As representatives of the World Health Organization Member States arrive in Geneva this week for the 65th World Health Assembly, I feel a cautious optimism about the future, and the future health of Africa.

With two female heads of state in Africa - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia and Joyce Banda in Malawi - women's health and gender equality are no longer marginalised, they have become central to a nation's potential for development and prosperity. National level attention to women's health and opportunity has become the standard against which our collective progress is judged. Presidents Sirleaf and Banda share a vision and passionate resolve to improve the lives of women in Africa - and like me they are founding members of the Aspen Institute's Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health.

At the World Health Assembly this week, where 193 countries will gather to tackle the planet's most pressing health challenges, I will present awards to four exceptional countries who have - against all odds - made enormous progress in making reproductive health services accessible to all of their citizens. The Aspen Institute's Global Leader's Council for Reproductive Health Resolve Award will be awarded to Malawi, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Nepal for their extraordinary efforts to increase access to family planning services, reduce maternal mortality and build health care systems that reach all their citizens.

Next week In Geneva, the Director General of the WHO, Dr. Margaret Chan, will be reelected. Dr. Chan began her term with a stirring inaugural speech where she proclaimed, "I want my leadership to be judged by the impact of our work on the health of two populations: women and the people of Africa."