I’m joined today by Ambassador Leslie Rowe from the Department of State’s Office of Global Health Diplomacy. Ambassador Rowe is in Uganda as part of her tour of East Africa, which also includes Kenya and Tanzania. Ambassador Rowe, welcome to Uganda.
Could you tell us a bit about the office of Global Health Diplomacy and the role health diplomacy plays here in Uganda?
This new office of Global Health Diplomacy, which is about six months old in the State Department, its main focus and goal is to make global health policy the fore front of our foreign policy. We have many health programs around the world in about 80 countries and we are trying to empower ambassadors to really make health policy one of their main activities in addition to other busy portfolios that they have. We have two other main focuses: country ownership and sustainability is a very important one for us, and because the United States is very very active in health, we want to work more and more closely with our partners around the world to engage in health programs and include them to become more and more involved.
You just spent two days in Tanzania attending the African First Ladies’ Summit featuring the theme Investing in Women: Strengthening Africa. How does global health diplomacy extend beyond government and inter-cultural institutions and civil society?
The First Summit was really a pleasure to attend. We had nine first ladies from around Africa including the first lady of Uganda and our own first lady, Michelle Obama, and our former first lady, Laura Bush, along with her spouse, President Bush, who all attended. One evening we were out for dinner and I was speaking with a young Tanzanian student and she said, “You know the first ladies, everyone remembers their first ladies in their countries because they are so engaged, in local communities and in civil society,” and that emphasis on civil society is something that we take very seriously in Global Health Diplomacy. We think that sustainability of health program, country ownership of health programs by Ugandans is not just a responsibility of the Government of Uganda but also of the civil society. We are very pleased to hear that civil society in Uganda is very engaged in health and taking care of Ugandans and has a long history.
For us, civil society is key because citizens need to able to advocate for their own health and let their government know what they need in their local communities. So civil society is very key and that is that is why this First Ladies’ summit with the first ladies who are so engaged in communities was so important.